YOUTH MORE WORRIED ABOUT EXTRA BURDEN THAN SECULARISM
No other cause in recent times has evoked such spontaneous participation by the public as the campaign against the Citizenship Amendment Act. The previous occasion when this happened was the anti-corruption crusade launched by Anna Hazare, which provided a rallying point for all those who were disenchanted with the prevailing order and system of governance. People from all walks of life joined the agitation although there was no effective leadership that directed its course in any direction. It is a different matter that the whole movement ended up in an anti-climax.
The anti-CAA agitation has produced a similar nation-wide response, with intellectual leaders, social activists, cultural personalities and political leaders of all hues other than saffron taking a position on it. The campaign itself started from the most unlikely Jamia Millia, which has mostly been in news for the wrong reasons in recent times. But it snowballed into a national movement, the final course of which remains uncertain yet.
Opposition to the new citizenship laws seems to be almost universal. But the grounds on which different sections of the agitation oppose these are entirely different from one another. There is as much misunderstanding about the agitation itself as there is less uniformity on the type of grievance.
The reason for the opposition is different in Bengal from that in Assam, while it is founded on a general sense of insecurity in most parts. In the rest of the places, it is a question of political posturing, a kind of reassurance to vote banks. There is also opposition based on other considerations, particularly among the youth, who say ‘hell with posturing, we need solutions’.
A sizeable section of the youth population, including the millennials, do not understand the logic of opening up of the borders for more people when the country is not in a position to take care of its own population. They are least bothered about who the refugees are or about their religious faith. For them, allowing more people only means further pressure on the already scarce resources. They further argue that India is not a signatory to the international refugee conventions and therefore can be excused from absorbing the shocks in its neighbourhood for policies pursued by other governments.
In this context, it cannot be lost sight that the agitation has been spearheaded mostly by the young people, who care a damn for political affiliations and would rather deal with situations and issues on merit rather than preconceived notions.
It is pertinent to note that the biggest opposition to the Centre’s citizenship initiatives have come from the state of Kerala, where Muslims, the central theme of the current agitations, are quite well-off compared to the rest of India. Kerala Muslims have enjoyed power and authority and have even dominated decision-making in successive governments, thanks to their ability to tilt the balance of power in electoral politics.
The Left Democratic Front government, led by CPI-M strongman Pinarayi Vijayan, has seen the CAA as a life-time opportunity to grow roots among the minorities, which the communist leadership believes will save the party from disintegrating as it happened in Bengal. Having burnt its fingers in the neo renaissance plan using the Sabarimala issue to claim ascendancy, the CPI-M badly needed an issue to stage a comeback and therefore must feel thankful that the Modi government obliged with its draconian CAA.
The resistance to the new laws in Assam would seem to run counter to the spirit of secularism and equality that is sought to be conveyed by the agitation leaders throughout the rest of India. People in the ethnically sensitive state are least bothered about who all are denied refuge, but deeply worried about an influx of Hindus from Bangladesh swamping the indigenous population, although the heat generated over the citizenship laws has helped the anti-CAA agitation at the national level. It does not matter that the Assamese are into it for a different reason.
In Didi’s Bengal, with its porous borders, leading to the highest influx of refugees from across the border, the concern is about the new laws’ potential to effect a shift in the existing population balance. Thanks to two major migrations, one at the time of Partition and the other in 1971, the state has a huge refugee population, with Muslims accounting for 27 percent of the population.
Appeasement of Muslims, therefore, is a sure-shot tool to success, which Mamata Banerjee has been effectively using to keep other formations from power all these years. An influx of Hindu refugees as a result of the new refugee policy of the Modi government could change the equation and take away the demographic dividend from appeasement, which is what worrying Didi, forcing her most strident stand towards CAA.