In both Assam and Kashmir, BJP's saviour act could spark civil wars

Topics NRC | NRC Assam | Jammu and Kashmir

West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee has warned that there could be “bloodbath and civil war” in the country over the implementation of the National Register of Citizens (NRC) in Assam. It would be foolhardy to dismiss this as a knee-jerk reaction to the threat of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) implementing NRC in her state. 

The BJP came to power on a security agenda of making India immune to internal and external threats – but its policies have initiated processes that will probably increase instability. In its pursuit of a unitary state the Modi government may in fact have created conditions for potential civil war in Assam and Jammu and Kashmir. The party and its government seem to have become victims of their own narrative.

The BJP obsession with illegal Bangladeshi immigrants extends beyond Assam. In 1995, along with its ideologically fraternal party, the Shiv Sena, it attempted to expel Bengali-speaking Muslims from Mumbai. The BJP has made similar demands for deporting Bangladeshis and Rohingyas from Delhi as well.  The proximate reason the BJP’s hype about “outsiders” in West Bengal are the state elections in 2021. It hopes that by polarising the electorate to repeat its performance in Assam. The BJP’s local units are now demanding an all-India version of the NRC, possibly in the form of the National Population Register, not only in Delhi but in states such as Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Maharashtra and Karnataka. The Union Home Ministry also favours an NRC like process in all states.

Contrary to the claims that Assamese xenophobia is essentially secular, and opposes all “outsiders” (read, Bangladeshis), regardless of their religion, the BJP government in the state is very upset with the outcome of the NRC exercise in Assam for leaving so many Bangla speaking Hindus out of its ambit. According to some unofficial estimates Hindu Bengalis could constitute more than half of those excluded. It therefore wants the NRC list reviewed.

If in J&K, the safeguards protecting state residents have been taken away unilaterally, in Assam too the bureaucracy, executive and an active Supreme Court under Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi, have simply wrested away citizenship rights. For the 19 lakh people left out of the National Register of Citizens, democratic power sharing has no meaning for those whose citizenship itself has been put in doubt. One can well imagine nearly two million people running from pillar to post to prove that they are citizens of India. They are expected to produce documents to prove their citizenship at a time when top leaders in government cannot even produce their graduation and school leaving certificates in public.

However, as in J&K so also in the case of those rendered suddenly stateless in Assam, there is not an iota sympathy from their fellow citizens in the rest of India. A psychic numbing of the country seems to have taken place with people losing their capacity to feel the pain of their fellow citizens. They appear to have bought into the government’s argument that these are minority populations that must be permanently policed and can never be trusted. So public morality is unmoved by a state clamp-down on some 90 lakh people in the Kashmir Valley for more than a month. It seems acceptable for the state to tell the 19 lakh disenfranchised in Assam they should be grateful for being given a legal process to rectify their situation going right up to the Supreme Court when everybody knows that the judicial process is punishing, being labyrinthine, expensive, and slow.

The mental state of the affected communities of Kashmiris in J&K and of the “stateless” in Assam is now likely to be traumatised and shaped by fear, insecurity, and perceived indignities. In both cases their sense of identity has been questioned and their self-perception as victims has been aggravated despite Prime Minister Narendra Modi paying frequent lip-service to “Vasudhaiva kutumbakam “(the world is one family) being a core Indian belief.

Feelings of victimhood among Kashmiris and those left out of the NRC in Assam may not lead to immediate violence but there is no denying that the feeling of being persecuted can encourage acts perceived as “retributive justice”.

People check their names in the final list of the National Register of Citizens, in Kamrup, Assam | PTI

In J&K, the trauma is to a collective “Kashmiri” identity that identifies itself as a ‘nationality’ and is already at loggerheads with the Indian state. The clampdown on the entire population has made the trauma deeper and generalised. The collective ordeal of confinement experienced by the people will change the psyche of the Kashmiris. Support for retribution will be perceived with greater sympathy given the increasingly fragile mental and psychological experience of living under siege.

This process may not unfold as rapidly among those excluded from the NRC, but the feeling in Assam will be no less traumatic if families are torn apart as some are declared citizens and others are bundled into detention centres. It has the potential to change the delicate social balance in that state. Polarisation of Assamese and Bengali and between Hindus and Bangla-speaking Muslims could turn Assam into a tinder box.

Both in Assam as well as in the Muslim-dominated Kashmir Valley, communities will increasingly perceive themselves as victims of the failure of constitutional and legal safeguards. They will see also the apathy of their fellow-citizens who have watched their plight as bystanders. If there is a leadership that can tap into the fragile mental state of the aggrieved people the situation can easily spin towards violence.

Walter Langer analysing the making of Adolf Hitler wrote, “It was not only Hitler, the madman, who created German madness, but German madness that created Hitler.” His diagnosis is apt for today’s India as well. The ruthless and heartless behaviour of the Indian State has been made possible by the collective malaise that seems to have afflicted its citizens.

Business Standard is now on Telegram.
For insightful reports and views on business, markets, politics and other issues, subscribe to our official Telegram channel