Amid nationwide protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) and the National Register of Citizens (NRC), the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has launched a campaign to establish the “widespread” support that the Act has in the country.
It began with Prime Minister Narendra Modi launching an outreach campaign with the hashtag #IndiaSupportsCAA, after massive protests erupted across India against the Act.
The Prime Minister’s official website tweeted that the CAA "is about giving citizenship to persecuted refugees and not about taking anyone’s citizenship away". Following which, he also tweeted a video featuring spiritual leader ‘Sadhguru’ Jaggi Vasudev, who he said had provided a "lucid explanation of aspects relating to CAA" and "calls out the misinformation by vested interest groups".
The ruling party has been accusing Opposition parties of misleading the country over the new law amid nationwide protests against the Act, which discriminates citizenship on the basis of religion. The BJP has maintained that the law is meant for persecuted minorities in three neighbouring countries -- Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh.
Of Lies and the Language
After the Prime Minister’s rally in Delhi on December 22, the party’s official YouTube handle released a series of videos in support of the Act. The campaign aims to propel the vision of the “Ideal Indian”-- one who stands by the government and the CAA.
One of the videos is titled, “A former protestor explains why she is not protesting anymore.” A television style conversation follows and the former protestor explains that there are only three-four type of people who are protesting. These include those who are Instagram (social media) celebrities and want to come across as politically active and “cool”, their followers who do not have any knowledge and are thus, “blind followers.” The list goes on to talk about, “Urban Naxals” who want to create anarchy and chaos, violence on the streets and those with an “Islamist mindset”.
Reacting strongly to this, Rituparna Borah, one of the protestors, told NewsClick: “We are not children that we will be misled. We understand the devastating repercussions that the Act will bring for our country, which is why we are here. We have left our jobs, our children, to be here and to stand for what we believe in.”
In a bid to trivialise the widely reported police brutalities, especially in BJP-ruled states, the videos suggest that it is the protesters who were destroying public property and “burning” their own homes. The party states that the onus of destruction and violence is on those who are on the streets.
The campaign by BJP has taken over other platforms as well, with videos being circulated on Facebook and Twitter, titled, #SabTheekhai. (Everything is alright), Fool Nahi Cool Bano (Don’t be a fool, be cool), which are being widely being circulated by party members. In addition, a toll-free number has also been circulated, asking CAA supporters to give a missed call.
However, the growing number of protesters seem unmoved by such a campaign that seeks to run them down. Sonia Kapoor, 85, who recently came to Mandi House to march along with women to register her protest against CAA-NRC, said: “I am not doing this for anyone else or to be ‘cool’, but for myself and my family, because we understand the discrimination the policies of this government is bringing, as also their divisive politics.”
There are other videos that show young adults trying to fit into the depiction of what “being cool” looks like. The language used in these videos is aimed at taking away the credibility of the ongoing countrywide protests. The videos try to depict the protesters as “young, misled supporters who have not read the Bill” Mocking the protestors, one clip shows a woman asking if her college friends are protesting because “their pocket money was taken away.” In another clip, the actor states: “These are the people, who do not understand basic civic rules and are now on the streets explaining the legalities involved in CAA.”
The videos also harp on the hypernationalist agenda pushed by the BJP-RSS, stating that “those who are Indian have nothing to be scared of and if you are scared, are you even Indian?”
BJP’s social media campaign, which seeks to primarily run down the protestors, is also based on carefully constructed lies by the party leaders, led by the Prime Minister Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah.
The videos use excerpts from the Prime Minister’s speech to establish that the Act refers to “giving citizenship” to persecuted minorities and not taking it away. This lie is being clearly called out as the CAA now has an amendment in Section 1 B referring to immigrants. In the CAA, it has amends Sec 1 b to include “any person belonging to Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Jain, Parsi or Christian community from Afghanistan, Bangladesh or Pakistan who entered India on or before December 2014 will not be considered an illegal immigrant.”
A fact check by Communist Party of India Marxist (CPIM) states, “By this amendment, for the first time in the history of independent India, religion has become a ground for becoming a citizen of India. Say that there are two persons who have been residing in India with the same documents, proof of their residency but no proof regarding their ancestors. If the person is a non-Muslim he or she becomes “legal” and if a person is Muslim, he or she is considered illegal. This is an attack on Article 14 that all persons are equal before law, and a part of the basic structure of the constitution.”
The protestors are asking the government to come clear on why it chose only these three countries? What about Tamil refugees from Sri Lanka or Rohingya from Myanmar? What about the Ahmadiya community in Pakistan? The Act is selective and, therefore, discriminatory, say the protesters.
The BJP videos also term the protests as “undue noise” being made about the NRC, which is still not announced and has no connection to the CAA. This is another lie, as the BJP government, including the President’s speech to the joint session of Parliament, has clearly stated the interconnection.
In April 2019, Amit Shah himself said, “First the CAB will come. All refugees will get citizenship. Then NRC will come. This is why refugees should not worry, but infiltrators should. Understand the chronology—CAB will come and then NRC. NRC is not just for Bengal, it’s for the entire country.”