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  Opinion   Oped  01 Sep 2019  Three decisions that can split India apart

Three decisions that can split India apart

Aakar Patel is Executive Director of Amnesty International India. A former editor, Patel is a senior columnist and a translator of Urdu and Gujarati works.
Published : Sep 1, 2019, 12:32 am IST
Updated : Sep 1, 2019, 7:27 pm IST

The final National Register of Citizens is out and India has excluded 19 lakh people from it.

A view of A deserted Lal Chowk area in Srinagar Wednesday. (Photo: PTI)
 A view of A deserted Lal Chowk area in Srinagar Wednesday. (Photo: PTI)

India’s GDP growth fell to five per cent in the second quarter of this year, the lowest in six years. Manufacturing, which the crown of Make in India, has grown under one per cent. This is the second quarter where we have not touched six per cent and the growth calculations are based on the revised method the government uses which many, including the former economic advisor himself, think are incorrect and optimistic.

There is a lot of work ahead of the government to first think and then execute a way out of this. Unless very high growth is revived, India’s journey towards eliminating poverty and dependence will halt. This is something that concerns all of us no matter which part of India we live in and what our language and religious background is.

A lack of adequate GDP growth is not an academic exercise: a few months ago we learned that India’s unemployment rate is the highest in 50 years. This has actually risen further and shows no sign of moving in the positive direction. It would not be an exaggeration to say that there is a limited amount of time available to us to think about our economy and how to fix it.

Then there are gigantic challenges that are ahead of us at the species level, like climate change, in addition to all of our national challenges.

Unfortunately, however, the government will have most of its attention focused elsewhere for the rest of this year and the next year and well into the foreseeable future. This is because of actions and decisions of its own choosing, in Assam, in Kashmir and in Ayodhya.

The final National Register of Citizens is out and India has excluded 19 lakh people from it. This happened through a flawed process, whose details we will not get into. The result is that we have chosen to go down a route and this choice leads to consequences.

The first is that this set of people will be disenfranchised, meaning they will lose the right to vote despite having a voter ID card. There are BJP MPs, like Subramanian Swamy, who have for many years advocated that all Indian Muslims must lose the right to vote. The second consequence will be that, like the 1,000 or so people who have previously been declared foreigners in Assam, we will have to jail these 19 lakh people who have committed no crime.

The families will be separated and women — daughters, sisters, mothers and wives — will be in different jails from the men and will have no contact with them. Children in these jails will face the prospect of a life behind bars.

The rest of India did not pay much attention to the first 1,000 who have been jailed. It is unlikely that concentration camps of the size required to hold 19 lakh will be unnoticed.

In Kashmir, it is approaching a month since we decided to incarcerate a whole population. Under permanent curfew, with no means of communications, no avenue to express protest and no voice in decision-making, we have made it easy for our enemies to say that we are an occupying power. The reason that we have locked up everyone, including those who once supported India, is because what is to come will not be pretty.

We will have years of hostile protests to look forward to there. Just like in Assam, where the first 1,000 prisoners were forgotten, Kashmir’s internal violence is not among our most pressing concerns because it has gone on for so long. However it will be less easy for India to ignore what is going on there because of the scale of what will happen when we are forced to unlock them.

The third place we will have to be forced into action will be with respect to the temple in Ayodhya. It is possible the courts will send down judgment on this matter before the end of this year. I have a good idea what the ultimate decision will bring, and looking around us, and at the recent manner the judiciary has behaved, this is not hard to imagine.

However no matter what the judgment is, given that we have had so much violence already occur on this issue means that a revival of the subject should be dreaded. Like Assam and Kashmir, Ayodhya was on the back-burner for a long time, forgotten in the national memory and consigned to being a non-priority matter.

This will change. It has changed for all three of these colossal issues that are unravelling before our eyes. In terms of national attention and emotion, we will have to invest very heavily in them. More than we have before.

Those of us who are opposed to the way the Indian state has behaved with its own people will be unable to stand aside and watch the continued persecution. Those whose passions are lit by the idea of traitors and foreigners and anti-nationals will be just as inflamed on the other side.

As a nation we are tearing ourselves apart through decisions we have deliberately chosen to take. And the rest of the world will make it difficult for us to pretend that all of our persecutions are legitimate because they are India’s internal matters.

Tags: gdp growth, national register of citizens