Does Modi govt know what the endgame of this crisis it has unleashed is?
Protests have broken out across India, some of them violent, against a new law that fast-tracks citizenship for non-Muslim migrants from three majority-Muslim countries. In both the capital of Delhi and the town of Aligarh, local authorities stormed university campuses, beating up and arresting students. It’s no coincidence that both the universities are historically Muslim.
In response, the government has arbitrarily turned off the internet across broad swathes of India and lots of states and cities have banned the gathering of four or more people — such as in parts of Delhi, the software hub of Bengaluru, and the full state of Uttar Pradesh, home to 200 million people.
Hundreds have been arrested, including some of India’s most prominent intellectuals.
Nobody has been surprised by the dissent. The citizenship law is dangerous enough on its own terms: It imposes a religious test, which should in any case be anathema in a secular republic, and it deliberately excludes neighboring countries with persecuted Muslim minorities.
But it shouldn’t be seen in isolation. Officials have also promised a nationwide register that would require Indians to jump through hoops to prove their citizenship. The result is a sort of hideous hybrid of Trump’s’Muslim ban’ and Britain’s’hostile environment.’
Like India’s other religious minorities, they have always been well integrated into the political system; for decades they had been courted by politicians, and the law carved out special protections for them. After the election of Narendra Modi as prime minister in 2014, that has changed, especially in recent decades. Right-wing ideologues declared gleefully that Modi’s party had’demolished the theory of a Muslim veto’ on who dominated in India.
Now Muslims are slowly being pushed into a corner with a government completely in thrall to Hindu nationalism. This year, India’s only Muslim-majority state was split into two, and endured the added indignity of having its statehood taken away and replaced by direct rule from New Delhi. A long-running dispute over a mosque that was demolished by a fanatical mob to make way for a temple dedicated to a Hindu deity ended with the Supreme Court essentially legitimizing the attack by giving the land to’the Hindus.’
When the mosque was initially demolished in 1992, religious violence broke out throughout the country and India’s cities burned. Even after the citizenship bill, and despite incidents of violence and vandalism in rural areas, many of the protests in the largest cities have been calm.
In actuality, the protests from the cities — many directed by students from some of the country’s best-regarded universities — have attracted young people of all faiths and none. They see that the government wants to make things ever more difficult for religious minorities, and dread the logical endpoint of the strategy. Yet the Muslims of India are faced with an impossible choice. When they don’t protest, they will allow their homeland to slide further down a path that ends at the detention camps which are already being assembled on the border. If they do, then the rulers of India will seize on the audiences to fortify among the Hindu majority. It is no coincidence that the harshest crackdowns on demonstration are in states ruled by Modi’s party; elsewhere, huge demonstrations are peaceful and unimpeded.
To many in India and around the world, it’s inexplicable that the government would decide to play with fire in this manner. An peaceful, well-integrated religious minority of these size is something other countries would envy. But ethnic insecurity and demographic paranoia are a poisonous cocktail, even when you are — such as India’s Hindus — four-fifths of the country and almost a billion strong.
In the long run, we will have to hope that good sense prevails in the rest of the class that is political. Some state officials have already said they’ll refuse to apply the laws as they stand. The federalism, already under strain of india, looks like it is going to be stressed still farther.
The authorities in New Delhi might well have been happy at first. After all, the angrier that liberals, secularists and minorities got, the more successful its gambit would seem. Yet the growing scale of this crisis — the protests and the internet shutdowns and the meeting bans — suggests that Narendra Modi’s government might now be wondering exactly what it has unleashed.-Bloomberg