From glorifying CM candidates to using dry development rhetoric, this state election is garden-variety for political parties even as young Muslim, Dalit and Adivasi voters forage for progressive undercurrents in Bihar after CAA and Hathras.
An Act of giving citizenship, Citizenship Act 1955, was regressively amended in December of 2019 by the Indian Parliament. Called redundant, illegal, inoperable, or immoral by academicians, it violates several articles of the Indian constitution including Article 13, 14, 15 and 21 as it offers citizenship to persecuted non-Muslim migrants from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan while deliberately excluding thousands of persecuted Rohingyas who have migrated to India. It has been repeatedly called out for religious discrimination, even by the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights. But it still remains in force even though almost 200 petitions have been filed in the Supreme Court (SC) challenging its reasonability under Article 14. When reviewed in context to National Register of Citizens (NRC), as was the case in Assam, Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) has been criticized for ousting Muslims and Dalits from India to create a conventional Hindu nation. Before 2019, the Act has been amended several times. Each amendment made it more hostile for immigrants but 2019 destroyed its very religion-neutrality, thus making it hostile to the very constitutional ambit it resides in.
The consequences of a nationwide CAA and NRC can be deduced by various NRCs done in Assam. In 2018, it rendered 4 million people stateless. In 2019, 1.9 million people were made stateless, of which 1.2 million were Hindus. Many of the stateless citizens committed suicide. United Nations termed it as a government exercise aimed at rendering people stateless.
The second state most immersed in politico-social turmoil over CAA after Uttar Pradesh was Bihar. Anti-CAA movement was also the largest mass mobilization of people in Bihar since the anti-Emergency movement. The state had more than 14 protest sites spread across 11 districts managed by burqa-clad women and students thrown out of Jamia Milia Islamia (JMI) and Aligarh Muslim University (AMU) by respective university administrations. Apart from this, students from Bihar were also organizing and participating in protests at AMU, JMI and Jawaharlal Nehru University.
Protestors also faced violent suppression in Bihar. 46 people were arrested, out of which 13 minors were misrepresented as adults. 3 women were also arrested, of which one was pregnant. All arrested were abused with religious slurs. Police also targeted Muslim localities wherein they terrorized residents and manhandled women in defense to a “life-threatening attack on police” as falsified later in a First Information Report.
Besides this, 9 civilians were injured in cross-firing during the bandh on 21 December. 15 were injured in Sitamarhi. A teenager was murdered in Patna because he protested against CAA. Victims of the February Delhi 2020 violence on CAA protestors also include migrants from Bihar.
Even after this, neither CAA nor the discourses around the anti-CAA movement have made it to the Bihar elections. It is astonishing that no party or its candidate is linking their manifestos, campaigns or speeches to Dalit or Muslim issues. What is more astonishing is how everyone seems unbothered about this. Even leaders who had participated in the protests in universities avoid directly mentioning it. Election campaigns there are more of an attack on Bharatiya Janta Party (BJP) rather than a passionate affair on people and their issues. Even if they are only attacking BJP, one cannot understand why or how they avoid CAA, the biggest atrocity BJP committed against India. A constitutional attack on Article 14 is being sidelined in Bihar elections by politicians who claim to be stalwarts of human rights. At this point, Bihar elections seem like a stale prank being pulled on Indian voters.
As issues of lynching, citizenship, detention camps, sedition cases and brutal assault on protestors, including Delhi violence, remain unaddressed by contesting parties, CAA remains unceasing. It is an amendment and until it is revoked, its threat continues to loom over Muslims and Dalits.
Besides, CAA is more than just a problem of Muslims or Dalits – the primary targets of the move. It is also an issue of existence, of natural justice, of inalienable rights. It cannot be brushed off in elections in the name of avoiding appeasement politics. Electoral discourses must address the mass unrest of CAA protests and this has to be demanded by voters, by intellectuals, by everyone, even those who do not agree with some aspect of the protests, like identity assertion. To avoid it is like avoiding the countless deaths these protests witnessed and that is akin to ignoring revolution in its purest form.
Citizenship Amendment Act Protests
The opposition parties of Bihar: Rashtriya Janta Dal (RJD), Congress, and others called a bandh on 19 and 21 December in protest of CAA 2019. RJD used CAA protests to strengthen its position as the opposition and paint its image as that of people’s leader in Bihar. But when the protests were suppressed and protestors violently incarcerated, all parties revoked their stand and now maintain incriminating silence.
RJD has a rich history of not talking for either Muslims or Dalits. It created a fuss over Hathras but that fuss was only an election debacle as later became evident when the secretary of RJD Dalit Wing was shot dead soon after he accused Tejashwi of stipulating money for an election seat. The party has also avoided supporting any incarcerated protestor from Bihar including Meeran Haider and Sharjeel Imam even though Meeran is the state president of RJD’s Delhi Unit. The party neither raised their voice against CAA, apart from calling bandhs spinelessly, nor did they speak for their own party member.
Congress voted against the CAA amendment in Parliament, so did Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP). BSP had four precious members in Rajya Sabha (RS), of which two members were curiously absent on the day of voting. To form a strong stand, all of its members should have been present but BSP left its Muslim candidate alone to oppose the bill. A party which leaves its marginalized members alone cannot be seen as a savior of the marginalized.
Janta Dal United (JDU) will not be mentioning CAA or its victims as they had supported it in both houses. Even though Nitish Kumar stopped NRC in Bihar, voters apprehend that it will be implemented if JDU gains electoral mandate this time. According to them, first step towards CAA – the National Population Register has already been implemented. Nitish had also left the constitutionality of CAA to be determined by the SC. People rightly fear that he might implement both CAA and NRC if the SC orders to, just like he accepted the SC order on the disputed Ayodhya land.
Mayawati might not have participated in CAA protests because of how they became a center of assertive Muslims but doing so is quite regressive. She is single-handedly destroying the Dalit-Muslim alliance carefully welded by activists during the CAA protests and Hathras agitations. It is also an insular view as CAA won’t only affect Muslims but also Dalits. In a country entrenched with casteism, most Dalits do not possess either property or documents. A reminder, there were 1.2 million Hindus in the list of 1.9 million stateless citizens furnished during NRC in Assam.
Though CAA, as of now, remains at a standstill, a traumatic tangible aspect related to it – the detention centres, still exist in India. They are being constructed in various locations in India. The biggest one in Matia is under construction while others are functioning already. Besides this, many hostels built for Dalit and Adivasi students have been deformed into detention camps in UP and Karnataka. BSP chief Mayawati only stopped the deformation of the hostels she built, not for others. Does Mayawati discriminate with Dalits according to their domicile state?
Amendments of Terror Laws
Recent amendments to Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA) and National Investigation Agency Act (NIA) are attempts to turn India into a fascist police state with arbitrary powers. When the UAPA amendment was in Parliament, Congress indulged in some high voltage drama when it walked out of Lok Sabha but later voted in favor of the amendment in RS. It surrendered its weapons where its opposition would have mattered. On the other hand, BSP did not oppose the amendment. RJD opposed it but is yet to criticize incarceration of students under UAPA. NIA amendment, aimed at expanding its power, was also passed with no opposition as BSP and Congress refused to take a stand against it. It was left to six individuals from scattered parties to vote against it.
From a distance, it might seem as if parties walking out of Parliament are protesting unconstitutional acts. But in reality, they are escaping their responsibility of forming a formidable opposition and by doing so, losing all accountability to their voters. If they really oppose a parliamentary act, they should find better methods of protesting it as coherent politicians.
Ram Mandir Foundation Ceremony and Lynchings
At first JDU denied that Article 370, Ayodhya issue and Uniform Civil Code were on agenda of the JDU-BJP alliance. Later when the foundation ceremony of Ram Mandir took place, Nitish remained silent.
RJD on the other hand accepted the SC order on Ayodhya and erased the issue of social justice by putting developmental politics ahead of the demolition while ignoring how it had inculcated deception into mainstream Indian politics.
BSP’s stand on Ayodhya has been shaky, to say the least. In 2015, Mayawati called the disputed site Babri Masjid then in 2020, days ahead of the foundation ceremony, Mayawati turned tail and credited the SC for paving the path of temple construction and asked everyone to honor the decision.
With Nitish denying a spate of mob lynchings in his state, Bihar only got an opposition who remembered lynchings to attack the government but never to question the atrocity or solve it. BSP and RJD last raised the issue in 2019.
Parties like BSP and RJD remember minorities to take votes but forget them when Muslims and Dalits need their support on issues like CAA and Hathras. Congress and RJD spoke of the atrocity in Hathras, BSP didn’t because BSP did not see the electoral benefits Congress and RJD did. All these parties in Bihar suffer from ideological deprivation. They are only restricted to getting electoral mandates.
In conclusion, this fall in Bihar, another bout of Indian elections is shaping as the old conspiracy dealing betrayal to all marginalized sections – from Muslims to Dalits. This is not the first time that issues of marginalized communities have been sidelined in election manifestos and campaigns. Whether we review Bahujan Samaj Party, Rashtriya Janta Dal, Congress or Janta Dal United, the marginalized remember each one abandoning them. From glorifying CM candidates to using dry development rhetorics, this state election is garden-variety for political parties even as young Muslim, Dalit and Adivasi voters forage for progressive undercurrents in Bihar after CAA and Hathras.
Tazeen Junaid is a Bachelors’s student at Aligarh Muslim University (AMU).