days before the 70th anniversary of the Republic of India, the Supreme Court
has served a grim reminder. The battle to reclaim the republic will have to be
fought by the public.
much-awaited hearing of petitions opposing the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, or
CAA, turned out to be a routine affair with little consequence, just as many
legal experts had feared. Attorney General K.K. Venugopal pleaded for more time
to respond to 143 petitions. The court gave the Narendra Modi government
another four weeks. The petitioners asked for a stay on the operation of the
CAA and the National Population Register (NPR), or at least their postponement by
a few months. The Supreme Court showed its unwillingness to currently engage
with this issue.
To be sure,
there is nothing wrong with the Supreme Court order per se. The court limited
itself to procedural issues and passed an order that did not pre-judge the
matter. This issue does deserve a constitutional bench, to which the court has
indicated it may refer the anti-CAA hearings. The Modi government did need time
to respond to more than 140 petitions. The plea for a stay on the CAA and the
NPR was not turned down, just postponed to the next hearing. And it was only
logical to ask the high courts not to hear the petitions while the Supreme
Court was seized of the matter.
But this is
no ordinary matter. The legal battle over the CAA is about protecting the
letter, the spirit and the very soul of the Indian Constitution. I am no
lawyer. But as a student of political science who studied the Indian
Constitution, I would have imagined that the CAA is an open-and-shut case of
brazen violation of everything that the Indian Constitution stands for. If so,
I would have expected the Supreme Court to take a different approach.
I would not
expect or even wish the judiciary to respond to the massive anti-CAA movement
all over India. But, is it unfair to expect the judges to find a way to address
the fear that the CAA has generated in the minds of crores of Indians at the
country’s social and geographic margins? The hearing-as-usual approach is
unlikely to inspire confidence at a time when people are desperately looking
for assurance from the constitutional order.
We must, of
course, wait for the future proceedings before coming to a definite conclusion.
But one lesson is becoming clear. Today’s Supreme Court is not the bulwark to
defend the Constitution that it was designed to be. It may still occasionally
offer small relief. But it does not have what it would take to defend the
Constitution in the face of this aggressive Modi regime. The present Supreme
Court appears to be a reluctant warrior in the battle to defend the
Constitution, going by recent pronouncements. Sometimes it is hard to say which
side the honourable judges are in this battle, legal observers have said.
down To the Public
principle site in the ongoing battle to reclaim the republic will not be the
courts or Parliament or any of the designated institutional spaces. The
struggle will have to be taken to the streets following a democratic and
non-violent path. The public must reclaim the republic. We, the People of
India, who gave to ourselves this Constitution, must come to its defence.
what the ongoing movement for equal citizenship is all about. Now that the
court hearing is behind us, and a long legal battle lies ahead, it is a moment
to sit back and reflect on the future course of this nation-wide movement. In a
sense, this moment marks the completion of the first phase of the
anti-CAA-NRC-NPR movement. For most parts of India, this phase concludes with a
country-wide human chain, planned by various organisations and coalitions on 30
January. Uttar Pradesh may be an exception, because anti-CAA protests there
have just resumed after a month of police clampdown on any form of protest. It
is time now to think about the second phase of the movement.
phase of the movement has already accomplished what could not be imagined a
month ago. First of all, it has broken the spiral of silence, especially for
the Muslim community, which has spent the last six years in a state of deep
anxiety. The community has found its voice and self-confidence. Second, the
anti-CAA movement has achieved a vast footprint, rarely matched by any other
movement. Third, it has tapped into the spontaneity of the people, with
political leaders and organisations trying to catch up with them. The
participation of women and youth is a noteworthy achievement of lasting value.
Fourth, a new set of leaders have emerged everywhere, often sidelining the
established clergy and political leadership. Fifth, the movement has led to an
extraordinary spurt in creativity, both in communication and in ground action.
Align, Spread Out, Fight
Yet, it is
too early to celebrate. If the Modi regime has dug its heels on the CAA, it is
because the government still hopes to recover from the loss of legitimacy that
it has suffered. While its attempt to paint the entire movement as the
handiwork of unruly Muslim mobs has not succeeded, the fact remains that an
overwhelming proportion of protesters outside the northeast are Muslims. While
there have been very powerful rallies and demonstrations, these shows of
strength are likely to evoke fear rather than empathy. While spontaneity has
been the strength of the movement and there are no signs of tiredness, the
various protests can and do work at cross purposes. The three strands of the
movement – protests in Assam, by the Muslim community, and of the youth – are
not quite aligned with one another.
January, following the nation-wide human chain, the anti-CAA movement will
enter the second phase. The focus of action must shift from big mobilisation in
cities and large towns to smaller towns and villages. The focus of
communication must shift from those who are already converts and those who are
directly affected to the rest of the population, mainly Hindus who do not feel
directly threatened by the new citizenship law. Special attention must be given
to Dalits, Adivasis and the nomadic communities that stand to lose most from
the new regulations. In choosing the form of protest, premium should be placed
on Shaheen Bagh-types of protests, which can evoke empathy among the rest of
India’s population. The movement must find its own positive agenda, beyond
opposing the NPR-NRC and the CAA. It must connect with the widely felt economic
distress. The movement for equal citizenship must also become a movement for a
renewal of the idea of India.
Yadav is the national president of Swaraj India. Views are personal.
Headline: Supreme Court’s hearing-as-usual approach on CAA shows Indians need
to go back to streets
Source: The Print