January 03, 2020

2020: Take the Struggle for Secular Democracy Forward

THE year 2019, which has ended, saw the imposition of a full-fledged Hindutva authoritarian regime in the country, a rapidly deteriorating economic situation and a continuing assault on the constitution and the democratic rights of citizens.  The end of the year witnessed a spontaneous and powerful protest movement in defence of the constitution and against the assaults on secular-democracy.

The BJP won the Lok Sabha election of May 2019 riding on the back of an orchestrated “nationalist” campaign in the wake of the Pulwama terrorist attack and the retaliatory Balakot strike.  The return of the Modi government with an enhanced majority saw rapid steps to impose the Hindutva agenda. 

The seven months remaining of the year saw the abrogation of Article 370 and the dismantling of Jammu & Kashmir as a state; the Supreme Court verdict in favour of a Ram temple at the site where the Babri Masjid had stood; and the adoption of the Citizenship (Amendment) Act by the parliament.  All three were major steps in the Hindutva agenda. 

The scuttling of Article 370 and the division of the state of Jammu & Kashmir into two centrally-administered union territories was undertaken by committing a fraud on the constitution and violating the federal principle.  A clampdown was imposed on the entire state with the citizens of Kashmir valley being deprived of their basic rights as citizens – the right to movement, free speech, assembly and even the right to life and liberty. Hundreds of political leaders and activists are still under detention and the internet has been shut down for the longest period in the world. Underpinning these draconian measures was the determination to put out of existence the only Muslim majority state in the Indian union. 

The Supreme Court judgment on the Ayodhya dispute was another blow to the secular principle of the constitution.  The verdict, despite paying lip service to secularism, eventually gave precedence to the faith of one side of the dispute over the facts and evidence which are to be decided in a title suit. This compromise with majoritarianism indicates how far the institutions under the constitution have been undermined. 

The next step taken by the Modi government was the adoption of the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill in the winter session of parliament.  This amendment has introduced for the first time the criteria for citizenship based on religious affiliation. It singles out and excludes by law Muslims from being considered for citizenship amongst a same category of illegal migrants. The BJP agenda is to implement the CAA along with the National Register of Citizens.  The CAA and the NRC have to be seen in tandem – while the former will facilitate Hindus and other non-Muslim categories to acquire citizenship, the latter would target Muslims as “infiltrators” to exclude them from the citizenship list.