The Great Walls Of In­dia

Sons-of-the-soil de­mands are be­ing en­shrined with spe­cial laws in many states, from MP to AP

The Times of India (New Delhi edition) - - An Epiphany Of Ideas - Sa­[email protected]

‘One na­tion, one Con­sti­tu­tion’ has been the gov­ern­ing mantra to jus­tify the ef­fec­tive nul­li­fi­ca­tion of Ar­ti­cle 370 that granted J&K ‘spe­cial status’. The move to bring ap­par­ent con­sti­tu­tional equal­ity be­tween Kash­mir and the rest of In­dia has been cheered by rul­ing party sup­port­ers, yet mil­lions of Kash­miris still re­main de­nied the ba­sic rights of a mod­ern so­ci­ety – namely in­ter­net and mo­bile con­nec­tiv­ity. Iron­i­cally while the talk is about break­ing walls be­tween Kash­mir and In­dia, new walls are com­ing up across the coun­try.

For ex­am­ple, the Supreme Court man­dated NRC ex­er­cise in As­sam has left 19 lakh in­di­vid­u­als “state­less” even though sev­eral may well prove to be bona fide cit­i­zens. De­ten­tion camps are be­ing built where these ‘il­le­gal’ im­mi­grants have to stay. There is also a po­ten­tially di­vi­sive move to amend the Citizenshi­p Act by which any Mus­lim per­se­cuted in neigh­bour­ing coun­tries can­not seek refuge in In­dia, while other reli­gions can. This is a vi­o­la­tion of In­dia’s Con­sti­tu­tion, which guar­an­tees citizenshi­p ir­re­spec­tive of reli­gion.

Sure, there are harsh re­al­i­ties to con­tend with. In both Kash­mir and As­sam, there’s a com­plex his­tory of past con­flicts which mir­ror current anx­i­eties. In As­sam a strong na­tivist sen­ti­ment has viewed waves of mi­grants as a strain on scarce re­sources, di­lu­tion of As­samese iden­tity and a spur for vote bank politics. Kash­mir has al­ways been viewed through fraught post-Par­ti­tion his­tory. In­dia’s claim to Kash­mir has al­ways rested on a sec­u­lar Con­sti­tu­tion which up­holds citizenshi­p ir­re­spec­tive of reli­gion. But to­day re­li­gious na­tion­al­ism en­joys full rein.

Yet while Kash­miri Mus­lims are sought to be brought un­der equal laws for all, iron­i­cally, “sons of the soil” move­ments across In­dia are chip­ping away at these very no­tions of con­sti­tu­tional equal­ity. As well-known aca­demic My­ron Weiner once wrote, “sons of the soil” move­ments in many In­dian states have for decades de­manded spe­cial priv­i­leges and spe­cial status for cer­tain eth­nic groups. To­day those sharp­en­ing de­mands are be­ing en­shrined with spe­cial laws in many states.

For ex­am­ple, Mad­hya Pradesh CM Ka­mal Nath has an­nounced that 70% pri­vate sec­tor jobs in the state will be by law re­served for locals, manda­tory for all in­dus­trial units. One of the first moves by the newly elected CM of Andhra Pradesh Ja­gan Reddy was to pass a bill for 75% job reser­va­tion for lo­cal Andhra-ites. In Ma­ha­rash­tra, Shiv Sena – the orig­i­nal pro­po­nent of na­tivist politics – has long de­manded pref­er­en­tial treatment for eth­nic Marathis. In Gu­jarat the govern­ment is push­ing a law for Gu­jarat in­dus­tries to pro­vide 80% job reser­va­tion for lo­cal Gu­jaratis.

Walls are ap­par­ently be­ing de­mol­ished in Kash­mir, but many walls are be­ing erected across In­dia as myr­iad groups de­mand legally es­tab­lished spe­cial status. (Ac­tu­ally new walls are ap­pear­ing in Kash­mir too, with the Val­ley walled away be­hind the com­mu­ni­ca­tion black­out.)

Can citizenshi­p be de­fined on cat­e­gories such as “sons of the soil” ver­sus “out­siders” as these laws are

For both Tagore and Gandhi, citizenshi­p of hu­man­ity was far greater than any nar­rowly de­fined no­tions of na­tion­al­ity and man-made borders

try­ing to do? “Na­tion­al­ists” blame Kash­miris for want­ing spe­cial priv­i­leges un­der Ar­ti­cle 370, yet to­day those same na­tion­al­ists have no prob­lem with al­most ev­ery state seeking spe­cial benefits for its lo­cal pop­u­la­tion. At least Kash­mir can claim that its spe­cial status came from the his­tory of 1947. Other states are de­mand­ing spe­cial rights on the ba­sis of noth­ing but a parochial in­ter­est in vote banks, in times of intense job com­pe­ti­tion.

As it is, elec­toral politics to­day is cre­at­ing fren­zied caste and re­li­gious iden­ti­ties. Now a new fault line is emerg­ing in In­dia’s war­ring land­scape: lo­cal ver­sus out­sider. How are these def­i­ni­tions to be ar­rived at? Is the UP taxi driver who has spent 30 years in Mum­bai not a ci­ti­zen of Ma­ha­rash­tra? Is the north In­dian soft­ware pro­fes­sional who works in Ben­galuru a threat to the Kan­nada iden­tity? Out­fits like the Kan­nada Rak­shana Vedike or Kar­nataka Pro­tec­tion Fo­rum have been known to target the tech in­dus­tries be­cause they are staffed by “out­siders”. The in­cred­i­bly suc­cess­ful Par­sis of Mum­bai or Mar­waris of Kolkata show how mi­grants not only enrich a city but also do not in any way threaten lo­cal iden­tity and cul­ture.

If politi­cians keep en­cour­ag­ing anger and sus­pi­cions about out­siders, to­day it’s Kash­mir and As­sam, tomorrow it could be Ma­ha­rash­tra and MP. To­day’s di­verse and plu­ral In­dia has been built by waves of mi­gra­tion, mo­bil­ity and glob­al­i­sa­tion. Ac­cepted, no coun­try can tol­er­ate un­lim­ited mi­gra­tion. Yet it’s time to stop harp­ing on the anti-mi­grant, anti-for­eigner line be­cause peo­ple are not the prob­lem, failed eco­nomic poli­cies are. It’s only when gov­ern­ments fail to de­liver that they tend to pin the blame on scape­goats.

Lib­er­als ar­gue for broad, hu­mane def­i­ni­tions of citizenshi­p be­cause peace­ful, con­trolled mi­gra­tion and mo­bil­ity can cre­ate rich, tal­ented so­ci­eties, both ma­te­ri­ally and cul­tur­ally. Mi­grants work hard, con­trib­ute to the work­force and soon be­come con­sumers and tax­pay­ers. Melt­ing pot so­ci­eties are good for busi­ness too. Walling off cit­i­zens from each other means weak­en­ing the prospects for an in­ter­de­pen­dent, in­no­va­tive and di­verse econ­omy.

In fact, for In­dia’s founders, citizenshi­p was a universal con­cept – all hu­man be­ings were cit­i­zens of hu­man­ity. It is the na­tion-state which emerged for the first time in 17th cen­tury Europe that de­fines citizenshi­p as un­ques­tion­ing loy­alty to it­self or to a par­tic­u­lar ruler. By con­trast, for both Tagore and Gandhi, citizenshi­p of hu­man­ity was far greater than any nar­rowly de­fined no­tions of “na­tion­al­ity” and man-made borders.

Just this week the 19-year-old daugh­ter of a first gen­er­a­tion Romanian im­mi­grant fam­ily has be­come the first Cana­dian to win a Grand Slam ten­nis tour­na­ment. Canada is now amongst the most open, em­brac­ing so­ci­eties for mi­grant pop­u­la­tions, unlike a Trump-led US which is seeking to build pro­tec­tion­ist walls and keep out mi­grants. Which way will a ‘new In­dia’ turn?

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