Ever since the passage of the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), 2019, one is witnessing protests across India. And post the events at Jamia Millia, the agitation has only intensified and has come to involve the student community in large numbers. How does one explain this spurt in the protest? Five factors need to be budgeted into any analysis of recent developments.
First, one has seen a level of unprecedented polarization in society in the recent past. The debate today is rarely on issues and their relative merits and demerits. More often than not, the prism to decide the “stand” one takes on any socioeconomic or political development is where one “sits” in terms of the two ends of the political spectrum. So, if one supports the present ruling dispensation and its leadership, all its actions and decisions are seen as positive and in “national interest”. Those opposing the initiatives are summarily dubbed as “anti-national”. Those who seek to take decisions on the merits of every issue are unthinkingly dubbed as being for or against the ruling establishment.
Second, the CAA and the Nation Register of Citizens (NRC) have evoked much stronger reactions than the decision on revoking Article 370 or the Supreme Court verdict on the Ram temple-Babri Masjid dispute. The CAA and NRC touch a much wider segment of society. While in much of the country the debate is on whether the basis of citizenship is religion, in the North-East it has been looked at from the insider-outsider lens. In the North-East, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) faces challenges from both its allies and among segments from within the party.
Third, while the citizenship bill was being debated in the two Houses, the Prime Minister was not present. It was left to the home minister to defend the stand of the government in both Houses. The equating of Partition with religion could well have been a tactical error. The debate in the two Houses heightened tensions and could have well caused the unrest.
Fourth, the involvement of the youth in the agitations got heightened after the developments in Jamia Millia University. Police action always invites a reaction.
Finally, the protest one notices on the street may not necessarily be led or inspired only by the parties opposed to the ruling coalition. Those who have been bitter critics of the Congress and the Left have been part of the agitation, especially in the North-East and in premier state-funded research institutions. One would be underestimating the intensity of the protests by laying it at the door of select political forces. One may be overestimating the capacities of such forces and underestimating the segments of society that is agitated.
Sandeep Shastri is a political analyst. The views expressed in this column do not reflect the views of the institutions and organizations he is associated with.