I have argued elsewhere that CAB 2019 is not against secularism, does not make India a Hindu Rashtra, and not against any Indian citizen, including Muslims. But many people point out that together with National Register of Citizens (NRC) this can be used against Muslim citizens of India. What stand should one take in such a situation?
First, CAB does not include necessity of NRC, it stands alone. I read a statement somewhere “CAB is toothless without NRC”. This viewpoint comes from a mindset that assumes that CAB is designed to ‘punish’ or ‘harm’ someone, and by itself it cannot punish if ‘that someone is an Indian citizen’. According to such thinking it gets teeth only in combination with NRC.
I would like to point out that CAB may not have teeth (even if above assumption is accepted, for the sake or argument) without NRC, but it still can benefit lakhs of Hindus, Sikhs, Jains, Buddhists, Parsis and Christians by removing illegal migrant tag on them and allowing them to apply for citizenship. And as far as this much goes, it harms no existing Indian citizen. Thus, without NRC it is not fruitless. It may be ‘toothless’ because it is not designed to harm anyone, but to help some people.
The genuine and really serious problems arise when it is combined with NRC, we assume that the process of registration in NRC will be very difficult and that the government is going to behave in a mala fide manner with Muslims. We should remember that this combining is not inherent to CAB, it will become possible through the further actions of the government, if it does. NRC carried out in the whole country can only identify illegal migrants, but cannot confer legitimacy to apply for citizenship without CAB, nor can the exercise provide for fast-track citizenship. NRC done without CAB can declare the persecuted minorities illegal migrants, but can give no respite to Muslims. The opponents of CAB, in such a case may have the satisfaction of not allowing any benefits to the six communities mentioned in CAB, but can provide to benefit to Muslims who are illegal migrants. This is one-way dependence between CAB and NRC, not mutual.
As per the newspaper reports the NRC has been a mess in Assam. It put many Indian citizens through hardships and no one believes that its results are accurate. The Home Minister Mr. Amit Shah declared in the parliament that the exercise of NRC will cover the whole of the country. If the exercise is done in a manner similar to Assam then this might be genuinely alarming. This is a huge problem without explaining to the public (1) the procedure, (2) providing a guarantee of fairness, (3) assuring that it can be done without too much trouble to people. The government has not done all this, and its actions and pronouncements do not inspire confidence, at present.
As an example of recent pronouncements one can consider Prime Minister Modi’s statement in Dumka, Jharkhand election rally where he said that those who are involved in arson during anti-CAB protests can be recognised by their cloths. People are objecting to this remark, rightly so, but the full story Modi weaves in that speech is much more objectionable. He builds a very diabolical narrative from 33rd to 43rd minutes of this video. First, he singles out congress for working only for the family. Then points out that while criticising BJP and Modi, they start criticising Bharat, and cross the “seema rekha”. Then he points out arsonists as Muslims through their cloths. With a stern face and warning tone reminds Congress that they are supporting these people, and the nation is watching. Claims that the BJP has saved the nation through CAB (desh ko bhi bachaliya hai), a hint that making more Muslims (illegal migrant Muslims) citizens is a serious danger to the country. And then reminds the audience what Pakistanis did in the England in their protest in front of Indian Embassy. Says congress is doing the same here. In this narrative, he is declaring protesters as aligning with Pakistan and antinational; without saying so much in words. Setting up a thought chain in the minds of the listeners and leaving it to take its own course to become antimuslim. This from a PM is very bad, and erodes confidence of people, makes “sabka vishwas” unbelievable. In a democracy people have a right to protest, though no right to violence can be granted. Still protest sometime get into such situations, associating this with a particular religious community with designs to harm India on the basis of cloths cannot be an innocent act, particularly when people from all communities are protesting. This is but one example, BJP functionaries provide many such examples, with repeated calls to send Muslims to Pakistan. All this raises apprehension, regarding NRC.
Still, I don’t think summarily rejecting NRC is a good Idea. If the citizenship register of a country is in mess, no one knows how many foreigners are living there, no one can identify them, then there could be many problems including issues of security. Resources in the hands of foreigners which could be used for harming the country and so on. I don’t see such a situation good for the citizens of the country irrespective of their religion.
If NRC is found to be necessary for the whole country it can be done only if a fair and efficient procedure can be assured. If the public cannot be taken in confidence regarding accurate, fair and reasonably achievable procedures, then NRC has to be abandoned. I have not seen the authentic procedure documents (did not get them), eligibility criteria and list of acceptable documents. There is an article on Wikipedia on this issue. The criteria and documents as per that article do not seem to be too difficult. For example, if the government says that if you have a passport or if your name is in the voters’ list before such and such date then that is good enough as a proof, I don’t think anyone should find it too difficult. But one cannot make Wikipedia article basis for an argument. On the other hand, if the procedure demands that I should produce the name of my grandfather in a voters’ list, and from there on prove ancestry right down to me, with correctly spelled names; then it might be a lot of trouble. And will be a huge problem for poorer sections of the society.
The fact is, we do not know presently what the nationwide procedure and eligibility is going to be. If someone has authentic information on this, I would like to know that. Therefore, before we allow our minds to swing in any direction, we should also know whether NRC can be started throughout the nation just by an order of the government. I do not think that at this moment, but am not sure. If that is not possible and a law is required; then one should wait for that law and decide to support or oppose it when it is available, rather than imagining things and start opposing CAB on the basis of a law which is not even there yet.
The argument I am making is: if the CAB by itself does not do any harm to any Indian citizen and if it passes the test of ‘reasonable difference’ in the supreme court; then we should consider it a case of positive discrimination to minorities in our neighbouring countries, and not against the principle of secularism. Because we do use the principle of positive discrimination on the basis of religion in our own country.
In such a case we may oppose the NRC but not the CAB. Even if the NRC procedure finally turnout to be such that it can be used to discriminate against Muslims citizens of India, we should oppose NRC tooth and nail, and reject it. I see no justification for opposing CAB in the name of NRC. If we oppose CAB in the name of NRC without first knowing about eligibility criteria in NRC, then we are not trying to defend the rights of Indian citizens but are arguing against the lakhs of illegal migrants from three neighbouring countries belonging the minorities there. And we are being unfair.
We know that sooner or later we have to find a solution to the problem of persecuted minorities from ABF already in India. Citizenship seems to be the most suitable solution. We also know that in spite of all the rhetoric the illegal migrant Bangladeshi Muslims cannot be sent back to Bangladesh. Even if the laws demand deportation, it is not practically possible. Leaving them stateless and without citizenship for ever is neither possible, nor humane. Keeping them in detention camps for ever is also an impossibility. Therefore, India has to develop a long-term policy about gradual citizenship to these people. And that policy should be known to the public. Neither the strategy of denial of their existence or admitting reduced numbers followed by erstwhile governments is good for India, nor the hard attitude of throwing them out is possible. If the government had thought through all these issues before embarking on CAB they could have gained public confidence. Adequate planning to CAB, NRC and a plan for solving the problem of illegal migrants together would have been much more acceptable to the people.
18th December 2019
 Though CAB 2019 is passed by both the houses of parliament, I am not sure it has become an Act. If I am correct, it will become an Act when approved by the president and notified in the Gazette of India. But I am not sure on this, so will check.
 In my blog “Is Cab against secularism?”