Recent events across the country have revealed a snapshot of what the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) wants in India, how it plans to implement this vision and also – how the people will react to it. It was only last week that Parliament passed the communal Citizenship (Amendment) Bill and the President quickly gave his assent, making it law.
Since then, mass protests have engulfed the country, starting with the North-East (Assam, Tripura and Meghalaya), spreading to West Bengal, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Maharashtra and even Delhi. At the time of writing, protests are continuing and gathering steam.
The response of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government, both Central and state, has been typically knee-jerk. Throw the police and other security forces at the protestors, use brute force to quell gatherings, arrest and detain activists, shutdown transport and internet, and screen the whole thing with stale propaganda about damage to public property, ‘outside elements’, Opposition parties, sullying the country’s image, and so forth.
The Prime Minister, who was campaigning in Jharkhand for the ongoing Assembly polls, repeated all this but went a step further by introducing his own brand of toxicity.
"People who are setting fire (to property) can be seen on TV... They can be identified by the clothes they are wearing," he reportedly said, at a meeting in Dumka.
Although this is a cryptic remark, but its meaning is clear to most Indians. What he is indicating is that those protesting against the new law are Muslims. Through this, he continues to push the whole rationale of the new citizenship law and the National Register of Citizens (NRC) that is the proposed next step. As Newsclick has explained earlier, the combination of the new citizenship law and NRC would primarily be used to target Muslims in the name of foreigners, something that forms the cornerstone of RSS thinking.
From Kashmir to Citizenship
The RSS contribution to the Narendra Modi-led BJP government is not merely in terms of the number of its karyakartas (activists) or pracharaks (seniors) that today sit as ministers, governors, elected members etc. These numbers are, of course, staggering. But what matters is that the RSS is pushing its agenda in the guise of a popularly elected government. This is especially true for the current second term of Modi, which is backed by a solid majority of BJP in the Lok Sabha. They seem to have concluded that all the dreams that RSS has fostered for decades on the sidelines of the Indian mainstream, can now be rammed through by executive action.
This exercise began with abrogation of Article 370 and 35A of the Constitution, which had protected Jammu & Kashmir through a special arrangement. In August this year, through some constitutional calisthenics, changes were brought in and J&K’s special status was scrapped, the state divided into two and – to rub salt on the wound – both parts were demoted to Union Territories. Note that J&K was the only full-fledged Muslim majority state in the country. This, and its special status, had been a sore point with the RSS right since Independence.
In the case of J&K, you can also see the other part of governance favoured by the BJP – repression and crushing of dissent. For nearly five months now, the state is in virtual lockdown, with internet and telephone services curtailed, curfews, heavy deployment of armed forces and a barrage of propaganda about how everything is alright, things are improving, people are happy and so on.
The same essential model has been repeated for bringing in the citizenship law amendment, which is but a stepping stone for the pan-India NRC. The amendment, which divides illegal immigrants on religious lines and fast-tracks the citizenship process for non-Muslims, was rushed through Parliament. Then, when protests broke out, the same panoply of measures was unleashed – brutal police repression, arrests, internet shutdown and a blithe playing down, with the usual allegations of Opposition incitement etc.
Out of Control
However, this time round, the situation is escalating beyond the BJP’s ‘management’. A week has passed since the law was passed in Lok Sabha, but protests are spreading to more and more places.
The Left parties have jointly called for protests across the country on December 19, while in West Bengal, they are observing a two-day protest on December 18-19. Left-affiliated student and youth organisations have been actively leading protests in several states. Several trade unions have jointly condemned the new citizenship law.
In Opposition ruled states, such as West Bengal, Tamil Nadu and Kerala, widespread protests are going on. In Kerala, an unprecedented satyagraha is being held in which both the ruling Left Democratic Front and the Opposition United Democratic Front are participating jointly.
In Tamil Nadu, the main Opposition party, Dravida Munnetra Kazagham has called for protests. In West Bengal, the chief minister is leading a protest march herself. In other Opposition-ruled states (with Congress governments) like Punjab, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh, the chief ministers have expressed their disapproval of the law.
Also, some of the BJP allies have started diverging from the RSS-backed CAA-NRC idea.
In Bihar, the coalition partner Janata Dal (United) has expressed reservations about NRC although they supported the citizenship law amendment in Parliament.
In Maharashtra, former ally Shiv Sena, which now rules the state in alliance with other Opposition parties, has expressed reservations about the citizenship law amendment, alleging that it is a diversionary trick.
In fact, several senior and junior leaders of BJP in Assam have reportedly either resigned or expressed their dissatisfaction with the new law. They are facing immense pressure from the ground to dissociate themselves from it because most people in the Brahmaputra Valley see the new law as going against the Assam Accord of 1985.
BJP ally, Asom Gana Parishad (AGP), has said it would file a petition in the Supreme Court, praying for revocation of the amended Citizenship Act, its leader Kumar Deepak Das told PTI on Sunday.
Das said the AGP respected the sentiments of the common people, who were wary that the law might threaten their identity and existence.
Even as the country is simmering with discontent at the economic slowdown, rising joblessness and now rising prices, the RSS-backed attempts by the Modi government to destroy India’s secular fabric are facing a growing resistance. It will certainly be met with more repression and more lies. But as the events of the past few days show, the battle is joined.