Shifting Sands: NRC-CAA, India-Bangladesh Relations, and Identity Politics

The 2024 Indian general election are scheduled to be held in India from 19 April 2024 to 1 June 2024 to


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Shifting Sands: NRC-CAA, India-Bangladesh Relations, and Identity Politics


The 2024 Indian general election are scheduled to be held in India from 19 April 2024 to 1 June 2024 to elect the 543 members of the 18th Lok Sabha.

The polls will be held in seven phases, and the results will be announced on 4 June 2024. Apart from the discussions of political parties, their agendas, complexities, and a new issue, likewise the 2019 election, is dominating the media—the NRC-CAA issue.

Understanding the NRC and CAA

The National Register of Citizens (NRC) and the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) are two intertwined policies in India that have sparked significant controversy and debate. The NRC is a register containing names of all genuine Indian citizens in Assam, a northeastern state of India. It aims to identify undocumented immigrants residing in Assam, particularly those of Bangladeshi origin. The first NRC in Assam was prepared in 1951 to distinguish Indian citizens from undocumented immigrants. The latest NRC update in Assam, conducted in 2019, resulted in the exclusion of around 1.9 million people from the list, raising concerns about the fate of those left off the register. 

On the other hand, the CAA, passed in December 2019, provides a path to Indian citizenship for persecuted minorities from neighboring countries, namely Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis, and Christians. Notably, the CAA excludes Muslims, leading to criticism and allegations of religious discrimination. The CAA sparked nationwide protests across India, with demonstrators expressing concerns about its implications for India's secular fabric and constitutional principles.

Interplay and Controversies

The NRC and CAA are closely linked, with the CAA offering citizenship to particular religious groups excluded from the NRC. Critics argue that the CAA, coupled with the NRC, could lead to the exclusion and statelessness of millions, particularly Muslims, who are unable to provide adequate documentation to prove their citizenship. The policies have also raised concerns about their impact on India's socio-political landscape, communal harmony, and international reputation.

The implementation of the NRC and CAA has led to widespread anxiety and fear among marginalized communities, particularly Muslims and other minorities. Even the fear of the upcoming hazards due to the CAA led to the suicide of a man in Kolkata. NRC's exclusionary nature, and the perceived discriminatory provisions of the CAA have fueled tensions and protests across India. The NRC exercise in Assam resulted in a significant number of people being excluded from the citizenship register, leading to uncertainty and legal challenges.

CAA and the "India Out" Campaign 

The crafting of laws and policies is typically considered an internal matter for any nation. However, when another country is specifically mentioned, it adds a layer of significance to the situation. This is evident in India's Citizen (Amendment) Act, 2019, which references Bangladesh. As a result, the recent announcement of the act's enforcement has stirred discussions within Bangladesh. It's estimated that there are millions of undocumented immigrants currently residing in India, many of whom are believed to have migrated from Bangladesh, particularly during significant historical events such as the 1947 partition and the 1971 liberation war.

The CAA has been criticized for undermining India's secular principles by selectively offering citizenship based on religion. The law and its "rules" state that, till December 2014, those (following religions other than Islam) living in India due to persecution for religious reasons in Bangladesh could apply for citizenship there. This implies that minorities are being oppressed in Bangladesh, and people are going to India to escape this persecution. The term that Indian policymakers are repeatedly using in this regard is "persecuted minorities," which is definitely a matter of eyebrow for Bangladesh and creates a grave concern among the mass people of the country. 

Apart from a few isolated incidents, Bangladesh is well-known for its communal harmony. India is also not immune from communal riots or communal grievances against the minority Muslims there. Human rights organizations have raised concerns about the potential exclusion of genuine citizens, particularly marginalized communities lacking adequate documentation, leading to statelessness and vulnerability.

The decision to enact the CAA, especially before the election, has sparked widespread debate and protests, both within India and internationally, due to concerns regarding its impact on citizenship rights, inclusivity, and secularism. As a neighboring country, Bangladesh is also facing a spill-over effect of such a "politically motivated" scheme of India. 

Despite the friendly ties between Bangladesh and India under the current government regimes of both countries, there have been instances where political and religious leaders have used the term "illegal Bangladeshi" during rallies in Assam, Tripura, and West Bengal. This raises concerns, particularly as Bangladesh has been branded as an "oppressor of minorities" under the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) during this period of supposed friendship. This prompts natural questions regarding how the Indian government truly views this relationship amidst such rhetoric and policy implications.

These kinds of laws will spark the 'Anti-India' sentiment in Bangladesh. For instance, the recent "India Out Campaign" is not a coincidence after Bangladesh's national election; it is an accumulation of decades-long frustration over India's non-cooperation on water sharing, border killing, and big brother attitude in the past. Recently, the CAA has worked as adding fuel to the fire for the "India Out Campaign."

To conclude, the NRC-CAA issue in India has stirred intense debates, protests, and legal battles, raising fundamental questions about citizenship, identity, and inclusivity in the world's largest democracy. The policies have implications not only for India but also for neighboring countries like Bangladesh, where concerns about migration, persecution, and cross-border relations intersect with domestic and international politics.

 

Written by: Md Shoriful Alom

About the Author: Md Shoriful Alom is a freelance contributor. He graduated in International Relations from the University of Rajshahi. His areas of interest are regional studies, South Asian politics, and the economic diplomacy of Bangladesh.


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