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HT EDIT-How to quell the CAA unrest Pull back from the NRC. Change the timeline for the Northeast

December 18, 2019 05:09 AM


How to quell the CAA unrest
Pull back from the NRC. Change the timeline for the Northeast
The government is facing opposition to the Citizenship (Amendment) Act from three quarters. The first is from ideological critics, who believe that the Act undermines India’s constitutional values. The second is from Muslims, particularly in north India and West Bengal, who fear this targets them. And the third is from the Northeast, which fears that the Act will legitimise immigrants.

The episode has done great harm to India’s democratic stability and its international image. Stakeholders must now find a way to resolve issues. First, critics should recognise that the CAA has been passed through a democratic process. For those who believe that it is unconstitutional, the final authority is the Supreme Court — and, indeed, there are already a range of petitions arguing against the Act. It will be best to wait for the judicial outcome. For those who believe it undermines India’s values, the fight is political and ideological. Just as the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) worked for decades to create a conducive climate to push its agenda, its critics will have to put in the work, including through peaceful protests and electoral mobilisation, and get the numbers to battle this agenda.

But the onus lies on the government to deal with the two other sources of discontent. For those who see CAA as a part of a package with a nationwide National Register of Citizens (NRC), it is the latter which is of greater concern. The NRC is seen as an instrument which will target the poor and the Muslims. The government must reconsider its decision to have an NRC, and, instead, find other ways to update citizen records. This will allay apprehensions. In addition, the government must continue to assure the Northeast that the Act will not lead to a spate of immigration. To do so, it should change the cut-off for migrants to access expedited citizenship from December 31, 2014, back to 1971, as stipulated in the Assam Accord, for the whole region. This will help quell the unrest. For the BJP, these may appear politically counter-productive. But it must let national interest prevail over narrow partisan gains.

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