The 2010s were a decade of the far-right. Long dormant after the defeat of the Nazis, they have found the perfect potion for their second coming.
The petri-dish, or cauldron if you will, was provided by historic levels of economic inequality. Around the world, wages have stalled, homelessness is rising and poverty persists. Western wars have destabilised West Asia and released its worst instincts. A string of Islamist terror attacks have fuelled Islamophobia.
What the Right does best is provide easy answers. And so it is that they have distilled the two issues and found an answer easy enough to roll off the tongue and set passions aflame – the illegal Muslim immigrant.
The brew has proved potent. In country after country, demagogue after demagogue has risen to power, blaming immigration for the economic malaise and selling fear, calling it hope.
India, at first glance, appears to be following the same route. A 2019 UN human development report said it is the most unequal country in the world, after Russia. The report adds that, adjusted for inequality, the average Indian is no better off than the average resident of Southeast Asia, the second-most poorest region in the world after sub-Saharan Africa.
Three decades of economic liberalisation have left the masses untouched, leaving “islands of California in a sea of sub-Saharan Africa” in the words of economists Amartya Sen and Jean Dreze.
On top of this, an economic slowdown has set in. An NSO report, first junked and later released after the 2019 general election, showed unemployment at a 45-year-high. Another NSO report, first junked and maybe-never-to-be-released, showed that rural poverty has risen for the first time in four decades.
And yet, it will be a mistake to think that the citizenship exercise – the push for Citizenship (Amendment) Act and National Register of Citizens – is a ruse to distract us from morbid economic news.
Yes, the timing is convenient. And yes, a nation-wide NRC was promised in the manifesto, but it goes further back.
The CAA-NRC is a project hundred years in the making.
Citizenship, By Blood
The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) has a different idea of citizenship than most people. It has to do with blood. “The Hindus are not merely citizens of the Indian state because they united by the bonds of love to a common motherland but also by bonds of a common blood,” writes VD Savarkar in the foundational text of the Sangh 'Who is a Hindu?' in 1923. Muslims and Christians “even if their blood is almost unaffected by alien adulteration” cannot lay claim to Hindu culture, he adds.
“We are one because we are a nation, a race and own a common sanskriti,” writes Savarkar.
The idea that everyone born in a country shares a national identity irrespective of their difference is called territorial nationalism. MS Golwalkar, the other fountainhead of the RSS, hates the idea so much that he dedicates an entire chapter to it in ‘Bunch of Thoughts’. Territorial nationalism has “emasculated the nation,” Golwalkar says.
“It is like attempting to create a novel animal by joining the head of a monkey and the legs of a bullock to the main body of an elephant! It can only result in a hideous corpse,” he writes.
Buddhists, Parsis and Jains are Hindus because they have pure “Aryan blood”, consider India as their holy land, and possess Hindu sanskriti. Three attributes Christians and Muslims can never have.
Golwalkar has a prescription for the mudbloods in his earlier work ‘We or Our Nationhood Defined’, written in 1939:
“... the foreign races Hindusthan must either adopt the Hindu culture and language, must learn to respect and hold in reverence Hindu religion, must entertain no idea but those of the glorification of the Hindu race and culture, ie, of the Hindu nation and must lose their separate existence to merge in the Hindu race, or may stay in the country, wholly subordinated to the Hindu Nation, claiming nothing, deserving no privileges, far less any preferential treatment – not even citizen's rights.” (emphasis added)
Savarkar defines a Hindu as someone for whom India is their pitrubhumi (ancestral land) and his punyabhumi (land of his religion).
“This definition contains factors of inclusion as well as exclusion,” writes Michael Witzel, a Harvard academic. “Non-Hindus, such as Muslims (and Christians), cannot be proper Indians unless they are ‘Hindu Muslims’, that is, Hindu by culture and Muslim by religion. Conversely, all Indian non-Christians and non-Muslims are automatically counted as Hindus, even the aboriginal tribal populations.”
So now, the logic of CAA-NRC is laid open. It’s Hindus in, and everyone else out, but not Christians. Why?
What Golwalkar thought of Christians is evident from the fact that he names Christians alongside Muslims and Communists in a chapter entitled ‘Internal Enemies’.
Curiously enough, when Amit Shah first talked of a nation-wide NRC, in April 2019, he had made no mention of including Christians.
The Western liberal press has had its eyes on India ever since the passing of the citizenship law. The Guardian, The New Yorker, The New York Times and The Washington Post, to name a few, have written scathing editorials.
A law that actively discriminates against Christians, one would imagine, would have made a lot more noise. The conservative press would have taken it up and so would have Republican lawmakers.
Donald Trump himself has a vast base of evangelical Christians that he relies on.
To be in Uncle Sam’s good books is to get an almost free pass on human rights. It appears this is the level of pragmatism the Sangh is willing to allow. The BJP also nurses political ambitions in Goa, Kerala and the Northeast.
The Sangh has been remarkably consistent ideologically. They have delivered the Ram Mandir, banned instant Triple Talaq and a Uniform Civil Code is surely on the way. The CAA-NRC is similarly a core ideology, a bedrock on which Hindutva is built.
So, when the prime minister gives a quasi-denial that “there has been no discussions on the word NRC”, what he actually means to say is that there will be one soon. Sit tight.
This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author's own.
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