On December 9, 2019, the Parliament took the first u-turn from this ideal. The Citizenship Amendment Bill
has introduced a religious test for Indian citizenship. A religious test that screams that only Muslims aren’t welcome.
In an essay, Secular Common Sense, Mukul Kesavan quotes Isaiah Berlin who says that all thinkers are either hedgehogs or foxes. “The hedgehog had one big idea with which he ordered the world while the fox had a series of insights that explained it.”
The BJP is a hedgehog, writes Kesavan, possessed by a single idea (Hindutva), and a single goal (Hindu hegemony). The Citizenship Amendment Bill emanates from this hedgehog’s idea of a Hindu Rashtra.
This is not a new debate but one that had been conclusively settled in 1947 with the last nail being hammered in 1950 with Constitution coming into force. While Jinnah’s Muslim League sought to create a country based on an exclusionary principle in the form of Pakistan and succeeded, the RSS and ideologues like Savarkar lost to the Congress in India. With its stewardship of the independence movement, Congress leadership that included Gandhi, Nehru, Patel and Azad refused to cast India in the mirror image of Pakistan. If it was Iqbal arguing the two-nation theory in Allahabad in 1930, it was Savarkar propagating this theory of a Hindu nation in his book Essentials of Hindutva in 1923. The RSS’s absence from India’s independence movement however came in the way of melding this thought of Hindutva with the Indian Constitution. Better men and women debated for two years in the constituent assembly and envisioned a modern nation that would celebrate its diversity and wouldn’t discriminate. They gave it a Constitution with Article 14 that prohibits discrimination on grounds of religion, race, gender, caste or place of birth. The idea of a Hindu Pakistan was expressly rejected.
With its dominance of Indian politics in this decade, the BJP seeks to reopen this settled debate. It seeks to litigate the past. While tabling the bill in the Lok Sabha the home minister even blamed the Congress for having accepted the partition of the country on communal lines in 1947. He can perhaps take a look at Ram Manohar Lohia’s book Guilty Men of India’s Partition to read about the role played by Hindu right in enabling partition. "The opposition of fanatical Hinduism to partition did not and could not make any sense, for one of the forces that partitioned the country was precisely this Hindu fanaticism. It was like the murderer recoiling from his crime, after it had been done," wrote Lohia.
Or the home minister could read one of Sardar Patel’s speeches where he says
, “It is good that we have agreed to partition in spite of all its evils; I have never repented my agreeing to partition. From the experience of one year of joint administration when we have not agreed to partition, I know we would have erred grievously and repented if we had not agreed. It would have resulted in a partition not into two countries but into several bits.” The founding fathers accepted partition but rejected the two-nation theory. And the device they chose to express this rejection was the creation of a modern, plural, liberal republic.
The Citizenship Amendment Bill also demonstrates the difference between political parties. It exposes how ludicrous the nihilistic argument that equates all political parties is. With this move the BJP is pushing its ideology forward from a position of political strength. There are other parties that have taken a stand against this transparently unconstitutional step. Often parties take politically expedient positions that may blur the difference but on a matter as fundamental as this, the political spectrum has revealed its colours and the difference is stark.
On its own the CAB is dangerous in an academic way but in step with the National Register of Indian Citizens (NRIC) it becomes incendiary. At the first step, NRIC simply seeks to distinguish between people who can prove they are Indian citizens and those who can’t. But CAB then provides non-Muslims amongst those who can’t a chance to become Indian citizens. Only Muslims, who may have been born in India or have lived here for decades will be left out. This will be a success of the two-nation theory propounded by Jinnah and the Muslim League before independence.
When Salam won the Nobel Prize in 1979, he requested the Indian government to locate a teacher who had taught him Mathematics in college in Lahore. Two years later, he visited Prof. Anilendra Ganguly in South Kolkata. Prof Ganguly lay on bed as Salam put his medal in his hands and said, “This is your prize, Sir. It’s not mine.” If Salam was alive today, he would’ve been excluded from the purview of CAB.
Jinnah’s two-nation theory lay discredited with the creation of Bangladesh in 1971. With the Citizenship Amendment Bill, the BJP government has given it a new lease of life.
Disclaimer: Views expressed are personal. They do not reflect the view/s of Business Standard