Larger debate on idea of citizenship lies ahead, says Oxford professor

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Faisal Devji said it was the form of protests, not the content, that was crucial.

Amid demonstrations against CAA, NRC and NPR across the country, Faisal Devji, Professor of Indian History at University of Oxford and Fellow of St Antony’s College, said a larger debate on the idea of citizenship lay ahead, no matter the outcome of protests.

“It’s proper to preserve and protect a constitutional requirement on the assumption that it is at risk, if you think it is at risk. Here is also an opportunity to try to think about augmenting ideas of what citizenship and refugee status might look like. There have been some moves in that direction. We should, at least, not specify who can and cannot be a refugee. We are probably going to look at a kind of enriching of our ideas of what the nation is, what citizenship might mean. At the moment, it looks defensive, but I wouldn’t be surprised if people come up with new ways of belonging in a global arena,” he said.

In Mumbai to deliver this year’s Vasant J Sheth Memorial Lecture on Wednesday, Devji’s lecture, ‘Gandhi at Sea’, will touch upon Gandhi’s sea voyage that opened him up to the world and played a vital role in making him an international figure.

“Internal domestic issues seem to have shut out the world. In a way, the protests over CAA are apparently about the world — those who come as refugees — and yet, the debates are not about that at all. Whether it is those who support CAA or those who oppose it, they have resolved themselves to a purely domestic set of issues. In a way, though the lecture does not deal with any of these matters, what it does is show how important the relationship between those two realms is, what I am calling the land and the sea,” said Devji.

Devji further said that protests breaking out across the country, during the centenary year of the Non-Cooperation Movement in India, were inspiring.

“We have just finished celebrating 150 years of Gandhi’s birth. But this year marks the centenary of non-cooperation, the first great mass mobilisation in India’s history. That’s Gandhi’s first major act in India... There is something inspiring about it, whatever political position you hold. Because, whatever the result, the nature of nationality, citizenship, more particularly what it is to be Indian...has become an issue again, just like it was in 1920,” said Devji, the author of ‘The Impossible Indian: Gandhi and the Temptation of Violence’.

He said it was the form of protests, not the content, that was crucial. “You don’t have to be faithful to Gandhi’s content. But what we don’t give attention to, the form, is crucial and that continues to shape Indian politics,” he added.