The Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), which became law with the President giving his assent to the bill in surprising hurry, has sparked countrywide protests and popular rage, thus belying all calculations of the Modi government. Latest reports suggest that the stir is spreading like wildfire. Probably misled by the absence of any similar protest against the earlier legislation of abrogating the special rights of the state of Jammu-Kashmir as if with a magician's sleight of hand, and making it a union territory depriving it even of its statehood, the Modi-Shah duo would have surmised that the citizenship bill, which in effect would strip Muslim minority of their citizenship in stages, would not evoke any protest or opposition.
But the secular populace, who were quick to detect that there is more to it than meets the eye, and the Muslim minority came out in protest together, forgetting all their mutual differences, catching global media attention. In response to the patently misfired move, the first salvo was shot by the northeastern region comprising the states of Assam, Meghalaya, Tripura and Bengal. Despite the fact that all these states, except West Bengal, are ruled by either the BJP or BJP-led coalitions, the people in general , and the tribal segment in particular, are not ready to take things bowing. As per the citizens' list released by the Assam Citizenship Tribunal, of the 19 lakh people going to lose citizenship, 12 lakh are Hindu migrants, and the CAA has been introduced to save them too, among its other intents. But the populations in these states are determined that they cannot accommodate the non-citizens, regardless of their religion permanently. On one hand, the Modi-Shah team is at a loss as to how to tame the current protesters, who have been setting vehicles, establishments and railway stations on fire; and on the other, the student-public agitation against the CAA that targets Muslims, has also become a test for the regime.
The current picture is that the move for communal polarisation, partly aimed at diverting public attention from the very serious economic crisis, has started backfiring. The agitations witnessed in the capital's campuses like Jamia Millia, Azad Medical College, Ambedkar University and Delhi University and others like Aligarh Muslim University, Darul Uloom Nadwatul Ulama in Lucknow, Benares Hindu University and Jadavpur University Kolkata, brought those campuses to a halt. This sent a clear message to the Hindutva government that it will not be as smooth a sailing as they fancied. With all the major opposition parties joining the protests, Modi government is being forced to realise that the haste shown in getting the bill passed on the back of its majority in parliament will not help. The caution by the US that the popular uprising should not be suppressed is also sure to discomfit the government.
In this context, the firm statement of Kerala chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan that the state government is not prepared to enforce CAA in Kerala, combined with the joint protest held by the ruling LDF and the Opposition LDF, arouse hopes. The picture across the state is one of the entire state, minus the saffron force, rallying against the law. And on Tuesday, with no support from any of the mainstream political parties – and even at the face of their objections - a joint action council comprising small parties and groups staged a hartal that reflected the common sentiment among the people across caste-religious-party differences. In particular, the spirited role played by young women in an uprecedented manner on the streets to make the protest hartal a success, should have opened the eyes of those in charge. As if inspired by the way the Keralite female students of Delhi campuses took on the police with redoubled vigour, the girls of the state made Tuesday's hartal a different experience. The message from the shut-down and similar protests was loud and clear: the secular and peace-loving population of the country are not going to brook any move, be it from any quarter, to strip overnight a community - who have been living in this country for centuries or even millennia - of their citizenship and citizens' rights. It has now been proved that Kerala has been able to send out that message without giving room, as feared, for any communal ill-will or conflict.