It will be an unprecedented development if the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights were to formally insert itself as an amicus curiae to the Supreme Court over the Citizenship Amendment Act. The court is yet to take up the nearly 150 petitions filed against the amendment since December. The government’s position is rightly that it is a domestic law and India has the right to determine its own policy on citizenship and refugees. Nevertheless, the expressions of concern over the CAA from across the world, especially in the wake of the Delhi riots, is a self-goal that the Narendra Modi government has scored by its cavalier approach to law-making in the spirit of the Constitution and India’s international human rights commitments as well as in its approach to the domestic opposition to the CAA and the larger political project behind it. What should worry us more is the adverse impact the CAA-NRC project and the events unfolding as a result of it are having on India’s relations with our neighbours and other friendly powers, and on India’s moral standing. Bangladesh, unconvinced of Delhi’s intentions despite frequent diplomatic outreach, has cancelled a series of high-level visits and engagements with India.
The UK parliament has spoken out, cutting across party lines, against what the Modi government put up on blatant display to the world during the Delhi riots. The US State Department and members and committees of the US Congress have expressed concerns repeatedly. The Modi government and the BJP’s response has been to hit back, at times in the most undiplomatic language, at whoever criticises it. Yet, the struggle over the CAA-NRC project is our own fight, for the soul of India. More than any foreign government or agency, it’s we, the people of India, who must decide what kind of citizenship law behoves our nation, whether we should let religion intrude into it and slip down the slippery path to a theocratic State, a concept we abhor in others. The makers of our Constitution debated this issue and rejected the idea. We must in our generation, too, debate it. But the government is in no mood for it. Instead, it has so far indulged in propaganda, allowed hate speech to flow freely from its leaders, precipitating a riot, and even allowed police forces to act in a completely biased manner, which was on display to the whole world.
The way to ensure that foreign agencies do not get to meddle in internal debates is for the government and the courts of the land to win the confidence of its people. The government can begin by giving a public assurance that there will be no nation-wide NRC process, or any other attempt to render people State-less for lack of documentation. The Supreme Court should take up the CAA petitions expeditiously. However, even after the deteriorating law and order situation in many parts of the country which is directly or indirectly involved with the CAA, both the Home Minister Amit Shah and Prime Minister Narendra Modi have remained silent till date. No party actions have also been taken against those mongering hate speeches openly as no inquiries called for police action and inaction both.