Modi govt risks social stability for political gain

By Wang Dehua (Global Times, 20 December 2019) – On December 11, the Parliament of India passed the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), meaning that religious minorities, including Hindu, Christian, Jain, Buddhist and Sikh migrants from Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan will be allowed to claim Indian citizenship, but the same will not apply to Muslims. Since the day, protests and demonstrations against the legislation have not stopped in many regions of India.

There are two reasons for the amendment causing outrage that led to widespread protests across the country. 

First, it is due to Indians’ fear of an immigration wave. In northeastern states of India like Assam, residents are afraid that their own cultural identity and regional advantages would be diluted by outsiders. Hence, their opposition to the amendment is aimed at all the immigrants, regardless of religion. 

Second, the unrest has been triggered by what is seen as religious discrimination contained in the amendment. India’s religious and ethnic issues have always been complicated. This time, the amendment excludes Muslims on purpose, which not only worsens the rift among different religious groups, but also exacerbates divisions within society.

One of the reasons why Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government promoted the amendment is to play the religious card and consolidate its rule. Currently, about 70 percent of Indian population is Hindu, while other religions constitute the rest. By promoting the CAA, which is favorable to Hindus, Modi seeks to gain support of the majority. 

Another political purpose of this amendment is related to India’s conflicts with Pakistan and Bangladesh. There are plenty of disputes between India and the other two countries, such as the conflict over Kashmir, which have not been resolved for quite a long time. With the amendment, India now has a religious pretext to interfere in other countries’ internal affairs.  

Since taking office, Modi has emphasized economic development and Hindu nationalism. However, after finding success in his home state of Gujarat, Modi’s economic policies do not seem to work anymore. The economic development cannot be transplanted to other areas of India. Thus, the CAA can also be regarded as a distraction for the poorly-performing economy. 

The religious discrimination shown in the amendment indicates a trend of Hindu nationalism moving toward extremism. This trend is closely related to the populism that prevails around the world. India displays a high degree of internationalization, which makes the country vulnerable to influence from the West. Right-wing populism in India is probably following the international trend of politics moving to the right. 

There is no doubt that the amendment will increase India’s population burden due to the possible immigration wave, which will influence Indian society in many ways. 

Although India’s main opposition party, Indian National Congress, is against the law, it cannot make any difference. After all, the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party has a full control over Rajya Sabha – the Council of States, and Lok Sabha – the House of the People. 

The current turmoil has already affected the Modi government. Bangladeshi Foreign Minister AK Abdul Momen and Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan called off their trip to India amid violent protests. The unrest also puts a question mark on Modi’s policy of nationalism. Even though the policy has many supporters, expanding protests will impede its expansion. 

India has now been hit by back to back demonstrations. However, the Indian government may not try to change the new law as the interest of Hindus who make up the majority is intact. 

Due to the disputes on Kashmir, ties between India and Pakistan as well as other complicated factors, the turmoil in India might continue or even exacerbate. However, since it relates to religious, ethnic, and territorial problems, how India’s situation would develop can hardly be predicted. 

The author is head of the Institute for South and Central Asian Studies at the Shanghai Municipal Center for International Studies. [email protected]

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