The Big Modi muddle

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It is becoming increasingly clear that the Narendra Modi government is muddling along with little coherent thought on how to defuse the crisis that has arisen and spread throughout the country on the Citizenship (Amendment) Act. The legislation was bulldozed through Parliament in undue haste and crucial aspects of the amended citizenship law were not thrashed out. Part of the reason for the haste was the obstructionist attitude of the Opposition and its failure to separate the wheat from the chaff. The Treasury benches thought nothing of the need for a dialogue keeping all sections of the two Houses of Parliament in the loop. On the government’s side, the attitude was, as so often in the recent past, that those who opposed it on the measure were not in harmony with national interest. With a new home minister who thinks nothing of debate and dialogue, the thrust was to get through the legislation for facilitating grant of citizenship from Afghanistan, Pakistan and Bangladesh to all ‘persecuted’ fleeing minorities in these countries at all costs, counting out Muslims who were identified as perpetrators of persecution. As opposition to the new law on citizenship came on to the streets, there was no mechanism to articulate the government’s position meaningfully. That vested interests stepped in to queer the pitch for the Modi government is beyond doubt but there was no one like Arun Jaitley to represent the government’s position. While the government at the Centre firefights the spreading fire, there are still threats being held out to the rioters, there is no attempt to allay genuine apprehensions and there is no leashing of tongues.

Recently, the chief minister of the country’s most populous state - Uttar Pradesh - Yogi Adityanath, warned arsonists that on the basis of video footage the government will punish them by auctioning their properties. That this infuriated the elements indulging in violence is beyond question but was such show of muscle necessary in a situation where the immediate need was to defuse the situation? Some states in which the Opposition leaders have been in the forefront of damning the Central government and pandering to key vote banks have been breathing fire and brimstone. West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee is on the offensive, calling upon the United Nations to consider a referendum on the Citizenship (Amendment) Act to unmask the Modi government’s intentions. But this kind of irresponsible behaviour cannot go on unbridled.

The legislation is an internal matter of India and no authority at the international level can arrogate to itself the power to dwell on it. The judiciary too has a measure of responsibility to step in with a mature outlook. The Modi government on its part needs to not only watch and wait for things to cool down. It needs to brainstorm with society leaders for a healthy solution. This is indeed a challenge that the Central government can ill afford to appear slack in tacking because the price to pay would be heavy.

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