Since winning power India in 2014, Nahendra Modi and the BJP have pursued a Hindu-chauvinist agenda.
On 12 December the Modi regime passed its Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA), building on the National Register of Citizenship (NRC) in attempting to remove the rights of many Muslim Indians.
Since the CAA passed last month there have been protests across India, not only from Muslims but also from the left and other defenders of India’s secular constitution. Following a ban on all protests in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh (ruled by the BJP but with a 40% Muslim minority), continued protests in late December were met with police brutality leaving at least fifteen dead, with schools closed and around a thousand activists arrested.
The internet has been shut down in the north-eastern state of Assam, with shorter outages in Delhi and elsewhere, to disrupt peaceful protests. In total at least twenty-five were killed in the first two weeks of protests, which continue, most notably on Friday 3 January when over 100,000 demonstrated in the southern Indian city of Hyderabad despite a police ban.
The CAA seeks to grant fast-track citizenship status to migrants and refugees who are Hindu, Jain, Buddhist, Sikh or Christian, but not Muslims.
The target is not only Muslim refugees, be they Rohingya fleeing Bangladesh, persecuted Ahmadiyya from Pakistan, Hazara from Afghanistan, or even Uyghurs from China. The primary target of the legislation is India’s Muslim population.
The CAA is wrapped up with the longer-standing National Register of Citizenship. This has its roots prior to Modi’s election victory in 2014 in a long-running Hindu-chauvinist campaign in Assam, which borders Bangladesh.
There, Hindu-chauvinist politicians have portrayed Bengali-speaking Muslims as illegal migrants. The NRC aims to identify these “non-Indians”, although much of Assam’s Muslim population are descendents of those encouraged to move there under British rule and others legally settled in the 1960s. Assamese have been called, often repeatedly, to interviews and tribunals often days travel from their homes. In a largely rural state, many have no evidence of their status.
The process led to 1.9 million of the 33 million Assamese being identified as “non-Indian”. The problem for the Hindu-chauvinists was that over half of these would-be aliens identified were Hindus.
Thus the BJP government created the Citizenship (Amendment) Act. This shuts out Muslim refugees (although it will do that) and gives a fast track to citizenship to Hindus identified as non-citizens by the NRC, while denying that route to Muslims.
A number of Muslims in Assam have already been declared stateless and a detention camp for 3,000 opened in Goalpara, with another ten planned. Since the Goalpara camp opened, twenty-nine of the nearly 1,000 interned have died. According to the local group Citizens for Justice and Peace, the process has been directly responsible for over a hundred deaths, including suicides. Meanwhile, the BJP has declared its intention of rolling the NRC out nationally.
Although at times Modi has denied that there is any anti-Muslim intention to the CAA, his true intentions are clear – he is seeking to whip up anti-Muslim hatred in his Hindu electoral base. Last month rallying support for the BJP in local elections in the rural state of Jharkhand, he turned to the subject of “Muslim migrants”, telling the crowd, “What are they, your hachure bah, your cousins? I assure you that before the national election in 2024 I will throw them all out.”
The demonstrations are set to continue. Although the CAA may be struck down by the Indian High Court, the NRC will not be, and Modi’s right-wing Hindu-chauvinist policy will continue. The secular left and the working class movement must oppose it.