While still suffering through the deadly second wave of the pandemic, the Ministry of Home Affairs gave the go ahead to the authorities in 13 districts to grant citizenship to non-Muslim applicants from Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh under the existing rules. The authorities are to review, verify and grant citizenship based on the Citizenship Act 1955 and the Citizenship Rules 2009.
Districts within Gujarat, Chhattisgarh, Rajasthan, Haryana and Punjab have been given the power to grant citizenship to minorities from aforementioned neighboring countries. This group of minorities is Hindus, Jains, Buddhists, Sikhs, Parsis and Christians.
It is baffling why the government would make this move while the rules of the Citizenship Amendment Act of 2019 is still not concrete. They plan to continue the discussion while the other applicants get granted citizenship in these 13 districts. In May, the PM Narendra Modi led government sought more time, citing COVID as the reason why they are yet to give a concrete set of rules. While the rules of a law are customarily notified within 6 months, the CAA continues this way 18 months later.
There are several reasons why this decision should be scrutinized.
Firstly, the country is going through a massive catastrophe. Arguably the worst catastrophe India has suffered as an independent nation. It is no secret that amidst the pandemic, there is a massive health crisis, coinciding with a financial crisis.
The public are suffering under abrupt and improperly done lockdowns, crises for oxygen, hospital beds, medicines, etc. There has been a huge wave of unemployment. Daily wage workers have been devastated financially by the lockdowns. There has been a death toll of over 3.2 lakhs. The bodies of the people who passed away are piling up, with not enough staff or area to properly deal with them.
What the government prioritizes truly shines through after this new development. The public call for help and proper administration over social media and via various social worker groups, those pleas have seen no answer. At the same time, the enactment of the Citizenship Act is not only unnecessary, but is also likely to cause people to congregate for verification.
Not just that, but the CAA garners attention. Whether it is positive or negative, the CAA garners the attention of the people. The government, as of now, is desperately fielding questions about the underreporting of COVID deaths, future plans, vaccinations and accusations of inefficient handling of the Coronavirus crisis. It almost seems too opportune a moment for something like this to take the limelight.
In addition to this, the vaccination drive is far from being complete. While Home Minister Amit Shah, earlier this year, said that the CAA rules will be framed after the vaccination drive is complete, the vaccination drive seems to have gone completely off track. The numbers projected and the numbers implemented differ greatly. With this in mind, it seems precarious to begin implementation of the Citizenship Act at this stage.
The Citizenship Amendment Act 2019 was met with protests all over India. People claimed the act was unconstitutional and discriminatory. There was a huge opposition to the act, with students throughout the country taking to the streets and protesting. The protests continued till early 2020, and only ended once the pandemic made it impossible to continue. The dispersal of Shahin Bagh was somber moment for activists and sympathizers all over India.
Now, as the issue begins to brew again, the public are faced with an impossible situation. Much like in Lakshadweep, where legislations are being passed against the will of the people while they can’t take to the streets, all of India are stuck on the sidelines.
The CAA protesters not only took to the streets, but made an active effort to spread the information needed to have an informed opinion on the issue. Prolific newspapers like The Hindu were constantly posting editorials and opinion pieces speaking against the CAA. It was a unifying protest.
At this moment, people are unable to take to the streets. For anyone who has social responsibility, a protest of the like of those that took place at the end of 2019 and the beginning of 2020 would be impossible. Even if the CAA issue rises once more, the people are confined to media houses and social media to give their opinions.
While this does send a message, it does not actively disrupt the comfort of the authorities. It seems curious to make this move during the heat of the second wave of the pandemic.
There are no coincidences in politics.