It was on 11 December last year that the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, (CAA) 2019, which replaced the Citizenship Act, 1955, was passed by both the houses of parliament. It’s now time enough to undertake a dispassionate cost-benefit analysis of a step that both the ruling BJP-led dispensation as well as the opposition support and oppose with their respective set of arguments. While determining the benefit-cost ratio of the CAA project, we need to make a comprehensive assessment taking into account the impact that a said project or a new act, has on the internal as well external fronts of the country.
Focusing first on the internal or domestic situation, we have seen that there have been agitations, protests and strikes against the CAA right from the time, the Citizenship Amendment bill was introduced in the Lok Sabha on 9 December. Assam was one of the first state where protest broke out opposing the bill. Thereafter, protests, sit-ins and agitations were witnessed across the country especially in the national capital of Delhi where Shaheen Bagh emerged as one of the prominent markers of the peaceful demonstration against the CAA. The protesters believed that the act is discriminatory on religious grounds.
State assemblies passed resolutions against the new act asking for the scrapping of the CAA. Large number of individuals, prominent citizens, academicians, civil society activists and NGOs have asked the Modi government to withdraw the controversial CAA while possibly equal numbers have supported it stressing on its importance. In short, this move of the government has sharply divided the society and polity raising a basic question whether it was so urgent an issue to take up at this point in time.
On the external front, India has come under sharp international focus for the discriminatory character of the CAA and the outbreak of five day long violence in the national capital. Intervention by the United Nations’ organization-the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (UNHCHR), by approaching the Supreme Court on the issues of Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), 2019 is an unprecedented development that made media headlines.
While the Ministry of External Affairs swiftly dismissed the UNHCHR move saying that it was an “internal matter” and that ‘no foreign party has any “locus standi” on issues pertaining to India’s sovereignty’ and “the Indian parliament’s right to make law” but the fact that a UN body has made the move to intervene in itself is not a very welcome sign of country’s international reputation.
Before Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s proposed three-day visit to Bangladesh later this month to participate in the birth centenary celebrations of Sheikh Mujibur Rehman, Indian Foreign Secretary Harsh Singla went to Dhaka to explain that the CAA was an entirely internal issue and does not affect its interests in any manner. We will have to wait and watch, whether the Bangladesh leadership has been convinced or not with the arguments that Singla has put forth in front of them.
Yes, the Modi government can show a certificate from US President Donald Trump who called the controversial act India’s domestic issue stating in reply to a question “I don’t want to say anything on CAA. It is up to India. I hope it will take the right decision for its people.” But the US does not consist of its President alone as there are other equally influential sections in America which have questioned the CAA. Many US Congressmen and Senators including leading Democratic Party challenger of Trump Bernie Sanders are critical of the CAA.
A US based nonprofit organisation– Freedom House, that conducts researches and advocacy on democracy and human rights has observed that India has suffered the biggest decline in civil and political liberties among world’s largest democracies, as PM Modi takes the “Hindu nationalist agenda to a new level.” Its global report titled “Freedom in the World 2020: A Leaderless Struggle for Democracy,” says “the Indian government’s alarming departures from democratic norms” could blur the “value-based distinction between Beijing and New Delhi.”
India came under fire in the House of Commons yesterday with Labour, SNP, Lib-Dem and Tory MPs criticizing the country for the Delhi riots and CAA and calling for action by the British government. Junior Minister in Foreign Office Nigel Adams said, “I can guarantee we will not pursue trade to the exclusion of human rights.”
Another classic example is of Iran whose Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif criticized India on the CAA and the Delhi riots and killing of Muslims in a Tweet and India had to summon its Ambassador Ali Chegeni to lodge a protest. Indonesia, Malaysia, Turkey and Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) have condemned the CAA and Delhi riots which were the direct result of the division of Indian people on the issue.
While it is relatively easy for the Modi government to dismiss any critical observation coming from Pakistan but, how can one explain criticism pouring in across the world. Was it really worth spending so much of India’s reputation, credibility and political assets to pass an act that is forcing the country’s official machinery to spend so much of energy and resources that could have been put to use elsewhere promoting and protecting country’s vital national interest?
To sum up we can safely say that India’s costs as a nation are much higher than benefits that country has made from the enactment of the CAA both internally and on international front as it has brought some degree of disrepute internationally also and created social strife too within the country.
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