Thursday, March 05, 2020

Anti–CAA Agitprop And Weathercock Intellectuals

Have you ever wondered what the biggest failure of India’s intelligentsia was?

Let me tell you a story. It is a small anecdote from the tumultuous days of the French revolution between 1789 and 1799. A newspaper reporter was interviewing a leader of the revolution in a Paris café. As they were sipping coffee and chatting, a wildly howling mob shouting slogans stomped by along the adjoining street. The reporter wondered aloud what the procession was all about. On hearing this, the leader shouted “Oh my God, I am supposed to lead the procession” and ran out.

At times when mass movements acquire a momentum of their own, revolutionary leaders might have to follow the mobs while pretending they were leading. But the intellectuals of a society are not weathercocks but its leading lights. They do not—and should not—sometimes follow while pretending to always lead. They should possess the moral fibre and intellectual integrity to pursue ideals even if they are unpopular.

The words honesty and integrity are interchangeable but are paired to amplify the meaning, in a figure of speech called synonymia. The word integrity is derived from the mathematical word integer, meaning a whole number, undivided and complete. There can be no partial honesty or fractional integrity. In the case of public intellectuals it is an all or none phenomenon. Lamentably many of our public intellectuals fail in this test.

As a test of the principle, consider the idea of freedom of expression. If a society cannot provide the protection needed for free expression of ideas, it is the public intellectuals who should hold themselves responsible for their failure to create the ambience for free flow of ideas. Is the principle of freedom of expression absolute or are there limits to it? If the public intellectuals champion absolute freedom on one occasion, but argue alibis for scuttling it on another occasion for political reasons, their vacillation cannot advance the cause of freedom of expression. It keeps the society splintered by competitive populism. If the public intellectuals swing with political winds they cannot expect the society to conform to abstract ideals.

Consider the ongoing agitation against the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) 2019. Let us look what citizenship means under various Indian laws. We will try to explain it in plain language devoid of legal lingo.  

The issue of citizenship is dealt with in the very beginning of the Indian Constitution (in Part II) just after nation and the powers of the national government are defined. Articles 5 to 11 are related to citizenship. While Part II confers citizenship to residents in the territory of India when the nation was formed, it also allowed for conferring citizenship to those Indians who remained in Pakistan at the time of partition and, those who went there after partition but wanted to return to India—before July 1948.

The Citizenship Act of 1955 defines natural and acquired citizenship in clauses 3 to 7. It flows from Part II of the Constitution and is enacted to amplify and encode rules and regulations for conferring citizenship. Here briefly are the modes that confer citizenship:

1.     Citizenship by birth (Clause 3)
2.    Citizenship by descent (Clause 4)
3.    Citizenship by registration (Clause 5)
4.    Citizenship by naturalization (Clause 6)
5.  Special provision as to citizenship of persons covered by the Assam Accord (Clause 6A)
6.    Citizenship by incorporation of territory (Clause 7)

There is no ambiguity about the nature or cause of partition of the country. Pakistan and its later splinter Bangladesh were formed as the Muslims of undivided India wanted a separate state for themselves. Many non–Muslims remained in Pakistan after partition either because they were complacent about their status despite the religious nature of the newly formed state or because of an inertia that held them back from making the long journey to India. It was also possible that they stayed back as they reposed faith in the assurances given by leaders of the nascent state who promised them complete religious freedom.  

What happened to them in the subsequent decades too needs no recounting. To put it simply their populations were decimated. Many of them had to flee to India, the only country in which they felt they could seek asylum.

All that the CAA does is to provide relief to persecuted minorities fleeing Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan who would otherwise be defined as ‘illegal migrants’ under Section 2 (1) (b) of the 1955 Citizenship Act. It does not take away the rights of anyone nor does it seek to strip bona fide Indian citizens of their citizenship. It does not abrogate the Clause 6 (Naturalisation) of the principal act by which anyone from outside can seek citizenship. There is a sunset clause in the CAA. It limits the ‘relief’ to those who entered India before December 31, 2014.

The conduct of the opposition parties has no surprises. Their objective is to usurp power, no matter how divisive and fraught with long–term consequences their modus could be. It is the conduct of the public intellectuals that should surprise. 

Those who are making a public spectacle of reading the Preamble in agitations across the country should carefully read the wording of Article 11 of the Constitution. It confers unqualified power to the Parliament to make provisions with respect to acquisition and termination of all matters relating to citizenship. Here is what it states:
“11. Nothing in the foregoing provisions of this Part shall derogate from the power of Parliament to make any provision with respect to the acquisition and termination of citizenship and all other matters relating to citizenship.”
Is the ongoing agitation mere tilting at windmills or a machination of deception, disinformation and psychological operations (known as Dee–Dee–PsyOps in the parlance of intelligence agencies), intended to intimidate the central government against bringing in progressive legislations like the Uniform Civil Code (UCC) and the Supreme Court hearing petitions against the abrogation of Article 370 and the CAA?

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