Read Jana Gana Mana, in full

Our national anthem is the first verse of a five-verse Brahmo hymn. The second verse goes, “Aharaha Tabo Awhbhan Pracharito/ Shuni Tabo Udaar Bani/ Hindu Bauddho Sikh/ Jaino Parasik/ Musalman Khristani/ Puraba Pashchimo Aashay / Tabo Singhasano Pashay / Premoharo Hawye Gantha / Jano Gano Oikya Bidhyaka / Jaya Hey Bharata Bhagya Bidhata.”

A free translation: “We hear your inclusionary call broadcast 24x7. We, Hindus, Buddhists, Sikhs, Jains, Parsis, Muslims and Christians come from East and West to pay homage at your throne, and weave the garland of love. Victory to you, O Bringer of Unity and Decider of India’s Destiny”.

That hymn was a clarion call to patriotic Indians, whatever their religious beliefs, or lack thereof. I last heard the song in its entirety at a Brahmo gathering a decade ago. But the second verse and the three that follow have been ear-worming me ever since I read the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) and understood the implications of the CAA being tied to the data-suction exercises of the National Population Register (NPR) and the National Register of Citizens (NRC).

The CAA carefully omits some of the religious groups mentioned in the hymn. The individuals who drafted it, in the hope of deciding India’s destiny, are definitely not advocates of unity. Here’s a quick summary of how the NRC/NPR/CAA change the state’s relationship with citizens.

Assuming the government does implement these, everyone who lives in India will have to prove they have lived in India for many years. Alternatively, they must prove that their parents, or ancestors, lived in India prior to a certain date.

If they can’t prove this, and they want citizenship, they must claim to be refugees fleeing persecution from one of three specific neighbouring countries. They must belong to one of several specified religions to claim asylum under this clause. They cannot claim to be refugees from any of five other neighbouring nations, which have actually generated refugees in large numbers.

Nor can such “refugees” claim to be born into any faith other than the ones specified in the CAA. Atheists are excluded even though atheists are persecuted in those three countries (and arguably discriminated against in India). Brahmos are excluded (unless we claim to be Hindus and we’ve fought legal battles to assert that we are not). Animists are excluded and, of course, Muslims are excluded. So if you belong to one of the excluded communities, you may have been born in Bhopal or Burdwan in a family that has lived there for generations. But you will go crazy trying to prove it.

This Act is not only discriminatory and deliberately crafted to exclude people born into faiths that the ruling dispensation doesn’t like. It is also designed to create a sinkhole of corruption, much larger and deeper than anything that India has experienced in its long, corruption-riddled history.

Consider the fact that the NRC asks for documents most Indians don’t possess, to let them claim citizenship. Lower-income groups are even less likely to possess such documents. Some of the document-deprived will be Muslims. But transgender folks, nomadic peoples, tribals, Dalits, landless labourers, urban migrants in rented accommodation, etc., will all be sieved out, regardless of faith. Will they, therefore, all end up in camps?

Probably not. Don’t underestimate the ingenuity of the average Indian and don’t underestimate the enabling power of bribery. Hark back to demonetisation. All the wise men who hailed that lunacy as a masterstroke confidently claimed vast quantities of cash would not come back to the banking system. But all of the cash did come back. People found ways to change notes and they were helped to do this, by “money-changers” within the system who charged commissions.

The same thing will happen with the alphabet soup of the NRC, NPR and CAA except that this exercise will deal in documents, not cash. Bribes will be paid. Documents will be magically generated. If it happens at all, the alphabet soup will not only cause endless misery. It will end up being a Rs 53,000 crore “cleansing” exercise that makes the people implementing it much wealthier.

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