Published:  01:37 AM, 22 February 2020

What's really happening with India's NRC/CAA

What's really happening with India's NRC/CAA Dr Richard Benkin

Pretty much worldwide, but especially in South Asia, people react to events and the people on either side of conflicts with more emotion than analysis.  My role often is providing some analysis for people to consider-maybe accept it, maybe reject it, maybe think about and alter it.

  Perhaps no issue is generating more heat and less light these days than India's National Registry of Citizens/Citizenship Amendment Act of 2019 (NRC/CAA).  As someone who has been fighting for persecuted minorities in surrounding countries, I applaud the law's providing a safe having for them.

I just landed in Bangladesh after a four-week residency in Silchar, Assam, with the Northeast India Company and Gurucharan College.  While there and since, I heard the expected hyperbole from both sides of the NRC/CAA debate; people who love it, and people who hate it.

  But love and hate are two strong emotions, and emotion is a poor basis for analysis.  Partisans on both sides traffic in scare tactics, trying to get their supporters worked up over a potential disaster if their side does not prevail.  The law's supporters say that it's necessary for India to control its borders and stop the decades-long flood of illegal migrants; without it, they say, the nation will lose its very character. 

The law's opponents, on the other hand, liken NRC/CAA to Nazi Germany's Nuremburg Laws that set the groundwork for the Holocaust; and warn that that law will lead inexorably to the expulsion of 20 percent of India's populace.  The latter positions are on display in the extreme at the Shaheen Bagh protests, which have been going strong since 15 December of last year.  Emotions are running high.

However, after spending considerable time in Assam, which is ground zero for this law, as it is the only Indian state to attempt its implementation; it is clear from an on-the-ground perspective that both set of partisans are fear merchants more than anything else.  And that's a shame because the issues that they both champion could hardly be more important.  Back to reality.

Let's take the first group of fear merchants who warn of mass deportations and an end to democratic India.  Citizens in Assam tell me that the whole thing is a mess. They recount examples of children on the list and their parents not, as well as parents on the list and their children not.  Even a former Indian President is not on the rolls.  Does anyone really believe that the Modi government will placidly accept a terribly flawed system implementation and let the chips fall where they may?  (If they do, they do not know Prime Minister Narendra Modi.)

  Do they really believe that India will forcibly deport its former President?  And who would do the deporting?  The military?  How many of them would find themselves off the list?  Moreover, the logistics in forcibly removing one fifth of the entire Indian population would be a nightmare beyond the capacity of any nation.  The numbers would exceed by ten to 20 times the entire population transfer at the time of Indian Partition.

It would be greater than the entire population of Bangladesh!   If implementation is so faulty in Assam, which is India's fourteenth smallest state, representing only two and a half percent of the nation's population; imagine what it would be like across the entire country.So, even if we concede the hyperbole of loudest voices against the bill, which I am not, their fears are unwarranted.

If indeed the NRC/CAA is discriminatory, that will be determined by the courts.  The law is being challenged in front of the Supreme Court right now, and I recently participated in an Impleading on the challenge.  That challenge alleges that NRC/CAA violates Part III of the Indian Constitution, which guarantees equal protection under the law.

  It alleges that all illegal migrants represent one class and treating any subset of it differently violates the Constitution.  Will that argument sway the justics?  The Indian Supreme Court has a stellar reputation internationally and is known for its independence.  If the violation is there, it will rule as such.  My own belief is that NRC/CAA will take much the same path taken by US President Donald Trump's travel ban.

The law's opponents decried it as a "Muslim ban," which is in fairness what Candidate Trump promised during the election.  And indeed the US Supreme Court reaffirmed US democracy and struck it down as unconstitutional and discriminatory.

The ban went through several iterations before it passed muster with the court and the Constitution.  It's in force today in a way that carries out its intended function within the confines of equal justice, and includes 13 countries, split almost evenly between Muslim-majority nations and others.

On the other side, even if the law was implemented fairly and flawlessly, it still would not solve India's problem with illegal immigrants.  It does not address the porous borders adjacent to Uttar Pradesh, Assam, and West Bengal.  It does not do anything about the corruption that motivates border police to look the other way when people come into the country illegally; a matter I addressed twice, once on the Nepal border at Panitanki and again on the Bangladesh border with Meghalaya.

In both cases, Indian border guards remained passive to illegal crossings and only became took action to confront me when they saw that I was documenting their negligence.  Israel presents a good example of a comprehensive approach.  The tiny nation had a serious problem with illegal migration.

The migrants came from challenged circumstances in Africa, trekked from their homes, through Egypt, to the Sinai, then across Israel's southern border.  While Israelis have a great deal of sympathy for the migrants, their numbers were straining the state's resources.  So Israel built a wall, and the number of migrants decreased by 99 percent.  While the barrier did have a significant impact, it was not entirely responsible for the success.

Israel also implemented other measures, such as imprisoning illegal migrants before deporting them and adding technological elements to its border control.  To really get on top of illegal immigration, India will have to do more than the NRC/CAA.

Thus, there are very real problems involved with addressing illegal migration and maintaining the values of a nation's constitution and values, be it India, Israel, or Bangladesh; and the Assam example emphasizes their extent.  Unfortunately, the anger, name calling, and hyperbole, much of which is pure fantasy, do not help us tackle them.

The first step is for all sides to recognize that every nation has the right, in fact the duty to its citizens, to control its borders and regulate who can and cannot enter.  The second is for people on all sides of the issue to identify the actual issues and come to a consensus.  And the third is to test those solutions against the principles of the nation's Constitution.

The writer is an American scholar
and a geopolitical analyst


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