What is the BJP up to?

Print edition : January 17, 2020

At a protest against the Citizenship (Amendment) Act and the proposed National Register of Citizens in Bengaluru on December 23. Photo: PTI

Police beat protesters during a demonstration against the CAA in Lucknow on December 19. Photo: AFP via Getty Images

Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah paying tribute to former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee on his birth anniversary, in New Delhi on December 25. Photo: AP

The Centre’s brutal crackdown on the protests against the CAA is a naked assertion of the dispensation’s larger aim to fulfil the Sangh Parivar’s Hindutva objective by subverting all institutions founded on the Constitution and nurtured through its ideals and values.

“We enter parliament in order to supply ourselves, in the arsenal of democracy, with its own weapons. If democracy is so stupid as to give us free tickets and salaries for this bear’s work, that is its affair. We do not come as friends, nor even as neutrals. We come as enemies. As the wolf bursts into the flock, so we come.” —Joseph Goebbels, in an article in the Nazi paper,

Der Angriff (The Attack), dated April 30, 1928.

“Chronology” is a term that has repeatedly come up in the course of the spirited nationwide agitation against the Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA) and the consequent debate involving diverse segments of society, including the leadership of the Union government and a number of opposition parties. Home Minister Amit Shah has used the term with different nuances at different times, trying to drive home different, even contradictory, meanings.

Samajwadi Party (S.P.) president and former Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav and Congress general secretary Priyanka Gandhi have advanced their own interpretations as to what Amit Shah’s “chronology” reference means in “real terms”.

Beyond these public pronouncements of the political leaders, the issue of “chronology”, or more specifically “timing”, is part of a series of backstage discussions within the various outfits of the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS) Parivar, including the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). These discussions also primarily focus on the passage of the CAA in Parliament, the snowballing agitations against it, and the moves that have been initiated against this background to implement the National Register of Citizens (NRC) and the National Population Register (NPR).

Taken as a whole, the “chronology debate” is a mixed story with several components. Primarily, it reiterates the Sangh Parivar’s, especially the Modi 2.0 regime’s, game plan of decisive discrimination against the minorities, starting with the Muslims, blatantly undermining the fundamental, egalitarian tenets of the Constitution.

It is also about the promotion of one of the major steps in this direction, the CAA, and how it was moved forward in Parliament, browbeating many parties that had opposed it earlier, forcing them to support the Bill so as to ensure its passage in the Rajya Sabha, where the BJP still does not have a majority on its own.

Secondly, it is about the unexpected and phenomenal public resistance that the CAA evoked across the country, uniting people of all communities and age groups, especially youths and students, totally upsetting the smug satisfaction that the BJP-Sangh Parivar leadership as a whole, and particularly Amit Shah, had after the passage of the Bill in Parliament.

The third aspect of the debate relates to the new manoeuvres and tactics employed by the Sangh Parivar in the face of this public resistance, which manifested themselves as the public contradiction of the positions taken by the Home Minister, including in Parliament, by none other than Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the constantly shifting stances that the regime was forced to adopt in this situation. The fourth dimension was the concretisation of the “revised tactics” of the Sangh Parivar, underlining a resolve to brazen out the situation arising out of the public resistance by unleashing the brute force of the administration, supplemented by trained Hindutva vigilante groups.

Chronology and debate

Looking at each of these parts in some detail, the chronology and the debate on it is as follows.

One of Amit Shah’s most striking references to the “chronology” element was in early October at a meeting in Kolkata. He repeated the same narrative on November 20, 2019, in the Rajya Sabha, some three weeks before the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill (CAB) was introduced in Parliament.

Responding to a question, Amit Shah warned all members that the population inspection based on the CAB would be followed by the NRC exercise. He also added that no one should have any doubt that it would be carried out across India since the gazette notification of September 7, 2015, which was made in the case of Assam, would be applicable to the rest of India as well.

During the course of the debate on the CAB in both Houses of Parliament in the second week of December 2019, Amit Shah continued in the same vein, linking the CAA and the NRC. The Bill was passed in the Rajya Sabha on December 11 and enacted as law on December 12.

The calculations at that time within the Modi government, especially the Home Ministry, was that the passage of the Bill would evoke sporadic protests only in the north-eastern States, particularly Assam, because there was a growing public resentment against many provisions of the Bill in the region even during the run-up to its presentation in Parliament.

The assessment also presumed that this could be managed through pointed negotiations with those involved in the agitations. However, within 24 hours, the ruling dispensation realised that its calculations had gone haywire.

Indeed, Assam and other north-eastern States such as Tripura erupted with huge protests, and big and small agitations emerged spontaneously across the country and that too within a few hours after the passage and enactment of the Bill.

The agitations in Jamia Millia Islamia in New Delhi and Aligarh Muslim University (AMU) drew impassioned support from students of all communities, leaving the government and its security machinery bewildered and impelling them to resort to unrestrained and barbaric assaults on the youngsters.

These savage attacks captured the nation’s attention, especially through social media campaigns driven by the students and youths themselves, and in no time youth protests became the order of the day across the country.

The linkages between the CAA and the NRC were central to all these protests along with the chronology that Amit Shah had cited. These protests and the associated campaign that came up with it underlined the fact that the idea of a “nationwide NRC” finds a mention in the BJP’s 2019 election manifesto too.

The section in the manifesto, titled “Combating Infiltration”, was repeatedly cited at protest meetings. This portion of the manifesto states: “There has been a huge change in the cultural and linguistic identity of some areas due to illegal immigration, resulting in an adverse impact on local people’s livelihood and employment. We will expeditiously complete the National Register of Citizens process in these areas on priority. In future we will implement the NRC in a phased manner in other parts of the country.”

As the protests gathered momentum day after day in the week following the enactment of the CAA, the “chronology” or the “timing” debate acquired traction within the Sangh Parivar too, including some sections of the government.

This period was also marked by successive statements from several State governments that they would not implement the NRC. They included the Nitish Kumar government in Bihar led bythe BJP’s ally, the Janata Dal (United), or JD(U), and Odisha’s Biju Janata Dal government, which had gone along with the BJP on the CAA. The central point in the “chronology” debate within the Sangh Parivar was whether the Modi 2.0 regime had faltered in terms of the “timing” of the passage of the CAA in Parliament.

Murmurs within Parivar

Speaking to Frontline, a senior Lucknow-based RSS activist said: “The question being asked widely within Sangh Parivar organisations is whether the government should have brought this Bill at the current juncture, especially after we had taken a very concrete step to fulfil one of our long-standing Hindutva agendas through the abrogation of Article 370 as recently as August. With this, we had made a beginning to take decisive social and political control over Jammu and Kashmir. Sizeable sections within the Sangh Parivar are now asking whether we should have opened this new front so soon. The argument is that we should have given some time to consolidate the Jammu and Kashmir operations and then moved on to the CAA.”

There are several “off the record” accounts doing the rounds within the Sangh Parivar as to what led to the “so-called haste” in the passage of the CAA. One of these has it that the RSS top brass had given clear directions that the CAA “need not wait” for the consolidation of the “gains” of the Kashmir operations. Apparently, even the Prime Minister was not fully in tune with this directive when it was originally discussed, but Amit Shah was confident of pulling it off.

Whatever the veracity of these accounts, the fact remains that barely a week after agitations intensified across the country, Modi himself signalled a shift in stance by literally contradicting the “chronology narrative” that Amit Shah had advanced in Parliament and outside repeatedly.

Addressing a rally at the Ramlila Maidan in New Delhi, which marked the beginning of the BJP’s campaign for the Delhi Assembly elections, Modi asserted that there had been no discussions on a nationwide NRC any time after the BJP-led alliance came to power in 2014.

He added that the NRC was implemented in Assam alone following the Supreme Court’s orders. Even more surprisingly, he sought to argue that detention centres were not being built to house those identified as illegal immigrants.

While this clear contradiction of Amit Shah’s position marked a shifting of stances, opinions on its real political import were mixed and diverse. Some people called it a “tactical retreat” in the face of an adverse sociopolitical situation, while others termed it as yet another instance of the political chicanery Sangh Parivar constituents are known for.

JD(U) vice president Prashant Kishor, who has openly and consistently criticised the CAA and the NRC despite his party’s support to the former in Parliament, saw in Modi’s statement a “tactical retreat” forced by the widespread protests against the CAA and the NRC.

Kishor said that no amount of mental gymnastics could camouflage the “straight connection between the CAA, the NRC and the NPR”.

Sitaram Yechury, general secretary of the Communist Party of India (Marxist), or CPI(M), was scathingly critical of Modi’s election meeting performance. He described the speech as a collection “of untruths, half-truths and misleading statements, whether it be the NRC, CAA or detention camps. Obfuscation of facts and truth is its central characteristic and, indeed, the aim is to hoodwink people.”

Following Modi’s statement at the rally, Amit Shah also said, albeit a couple of days later, that the government would go along with the NPR and that the NPR had no linkage to the NRC, as the two were governed by different laws. He also asserted that NPR data would never be used for the NRC exercise.

Priyanka Gandhi’s response made a pointed allusion to Amit Shah’s chronology narrative. On Twitter, she exhorted the people to understand what Amit Shah meant by chronology. “First, they will promise you 2 crore jobs, then they will form the government, then they will destroy the universities and the Constitution. Then you will protest and then they will call you a ‘fool’.”

Stating that this was his real chronological perspective, she also added that the “Youngistan” (youths of India) will not be fooled by all this and shall stand firm.

Akhilesh Yadav said that Amit Shah’s chronology narrative and Modi’s obfuscation were all part of the Sangh Parivar’s exercises in political deceit and attempts to delude the people.

“Remember, the BJP, the RSS and other constituents of the Sangh Parivar have consistently done this for many decades. What did they tell the Supreme Court and the National Integration Council just days before the demolition of the Babri Masjid in December 1992? That they would protect the structure and that kar seva would just have singing of bhajans and kirtans. And we all know what happened. The original chronology devised by the Sangh Parivar was carried out through its armed and trained vigilantes leading to the demolition of the masjid. They not only lied to our constitutional bodies, including the Supreme Court but also brought abiding shame to our national secular values and tradition. What is being targeted is similar, and everyone needs to rally around to expose this,” he said.

Strangely enough, some sections of the Sangh Parivar, especially those in the BJP and its trade union, the Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh (BMS), equate the post-CAA situation to the one that existed after the demolition of the Babri Masjid.

According to them, the overwhelming perception within the Sangh Parivar after the masjid demolition was that it would lead to stronger pan-Hindu identity across India. (However, that did not happen for several years in the 1990s.)

Similarly, these sections expect the CAA to give a fillip to Hindutva social and political consolidation across India, but the youths are resolutely thwarting that plan.

Also, the majority of those who interacted with Frontline pointed out that there was a crucial difference between the 1990s and now and that is the fact that the Sangh Parivar controls the governments at the Centre and in the most populous State, Uttar Pradesh. “With total control over power, we have much more leeway than in the 1990s,” a Sangh Parivar leader said..

What this perception means in terms of ground-level political and administrative actions is evident from the barbaric manner in which the police and the paramilitary apparatus have been used to crack down on protests in several States, including Uttar Pradesh and Assam, and in Delhi, in the last two weeks of December. The report prepared by a fact-finding team that recently visited Uttar Pradesh is revealing in this regard.

Brutal Reign

The team, consisting of Swaraj Abhiyan leader Yogendra Yadav, Kavita Krishnan of the Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist), Nadeem Khan of the civil society group United Against Hate, and the human rights activist Harsh Mander, said Uttar Pradesh was under a reign of terror.

In States ruled by the BJP, social activists are being put behind bars for carrying out peaceful protests. In Assam, the National Investigation Agency has incarcerated peasant leader and Right to Information activist Akhil Gogoi for over a month for his role in the recent protests in Assam against the CAA. In Delhi, Bhim Army chief Chandrashekhar Azad was arrested on December 21 and sent to judicial custody after he led a massive protest against the CAA.

The Uttar Pradesh Police arrested the activist Deepak Kabir and imprisoned him in Lucknow after he went to a police station to inquire about some people missing after an anti-CAA protest the day before. He was arrested on charges of rioting and preventing public servants from performing their duty.

Congress spokesperson Sadma Zafar was arrested while recording a video of the protests in Lucknow. The video shows her asking why she was being picked up even though she did not participate in the protests. The brazening out in the post-CAA situation bears all the signs of a police state. Yogendra Yadav said that the Uttar Pradesh government was employing unlawful and lethal tactics to harass and intimidate citizens protesting against CAA and the NRC.

“The goal is not just to suppress all dissent against the CAA or the NRC in Uttar Pradesh but to send a signal to anyone who may dare to raise a voice against anything,” he added.

The mounting figures of vigilante killings along with police assaults, the rising number of illegal detentions, and the blatant cover-up of the number of casualties all add to the growing perception of a police state and its unmitigated savagery.

Adding to this predatory narrative are actions such as those from the Chief of the Army Staff, Gen. Bipin Rawat, who made partisan comments criticising the student and youth protests.

Evidently, the “chronology narrative” is aimed at fulfilling the Hindutva ideology’s objectives by subverting all institutions founded on the Constitution and nurtured through its ideals and values. Indeed, it is an ominous throwback to the Sangh Parivar’s ideological lodestars such as Goebbels and what they articulated as they built up the diabolical Nazi regime.

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