Subramanian Swamy’s latest OpEd on Citizenship Act is a smokescreen

With his latest opinion piece, Swamy attempts to obfuscate facts, and more dangerously use it to further the Hindutva rhetoric.

Swamy

Dr. Subramanian Swamy’s latest opinion piece entitled “A premature denouncement of the Citizenship Act” intends to assert that the concerns of the critics of the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) are unfounded. As much as Swamy would appreciate, given his Harvard training in economics and statistics many decades ago, an evaluation of his justifications of the Act from within the lens of his own exacting scholarly disciplines is in order.

citizenship amendement bill

Swamy rightly starts with a response to the need for the CAA, which the critics too have been actively seeking from the leaders of the Union Government. To this, he pushes the ruling party’s argument that the non-Muslim minorities face persecution in Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Afghanistan, and, must be granted citizenship. India, of course, has a duty, above all, humanitarian, to protect the persecuted minorities of her neighbors, however, there are at least four aspects of the critics’ concerns that Swamy has failed to consider:

Ignoring the realities from Assam 

Swamy depends on a logic of historical analysis in citing the persecution of minorities in relation to 1947. By the same logic, a more recent connection ought to have been highlighted, namely, the need for the ruling party to urgently enact the CAA in the context of the exclusion of 19 lakh people from the Assam NRC – a majority of them poor and Hindu. The Citizenship Amendment Bill was, thus, introduced in this context to avoid an embarrassment for the majoritarian government, that a large number of Hindus being left out from the Assam NRC had caused. The people of Assam, on the other hand, see the provision for citizenship to the non-Muslim migrants as further hindering their fight for protecting their ethnic identity. Thus, by ignoring the causal factors of the debacle in Assam, Swamy shows what can be called selective amnesia of recent events.  

Ignoring the persecution of minority Muslim groups

If the intention regarding protecting minorities from persecution is fundamental to Swamy’s piece, the fact that he ignores the persecution of minority Muslim groups makes his humanity appear half-hearted. Petitions have been filed arguing for the inclusion of Ahmadi and Shia Muslims who are minorities in Pakistan, Hazara Muslims of Afghanistan and Uighurs from China. Furthermore, narrowly defining minorities as non-Muslims leaves out groups such as LGBT, political and linguistic minorities, atheists, censored artists, and journalists, etc.

Swamy must clarify his sense of humanity, which perhaps could also explain that of the ruling party’s. Compared to any other country, it is in India that the leaders must explain the basis for their moral positions towards certain minorities at the risk of excluding others, for the nation-state itself is marked by its complex composition of various minority groups. He further makes an unsubstantiated claim: “No Muslims or Jews came to India over the last 70 years on grounds of religious persecution”. This claim is indefensible even by the logic of language if he is aware that India considers all minority Muslim groups (Ahmadis, Shias, Uighurs) as simply Muslims. These groups, facing persecution in their countries, have fled to India in search of safety. Swamy needs to reconsider the consistency of his own statement, which will require an effort perhaps no more than proofreading his article. 

Factual inaccuracy in quoting a decline in non-Muslim minority population

Swamy’s training in economics has not ensured that he relies on clean data. Despite the debunking from various sources – of the Home Minister Amit Shah’s claim that the population of non-Muslim minorities has declined since 1951 – Swamy goes on to restate this inaccuracy. He conveniently ignores the established fact that the Hindu population in Pakistan from the 1951 data and that from the census data for 1998 are in fact comparable. 

Equating Hindutva with the Constitution

Swamy’s contention is primarily with a previously published editorial by the Chief Minister of Kerala and CPI(M) leader Pinarayi Vijayan which the former sees as exaggerating the Hindutva agenda. Swamy on multiple instances mischievously quotes Vijayan’s concerns with the CAA as “the agenda of Hindutva and the ultimate goal of establishing a Hindu Nation”, “[discriminating] against Muslims”, etc. These are almost every critic’s concerns that it violates Article 14 that guarantees people “equality before the law”. Swamy quotes the Supreme Court to state that “equality before the law” does not apply because discriminated minorities (non-Muslims of Pakistan, Bangladesh, Afghanistan) are not placed equally to the Muslim counterparts. If that is indeed the case, then Ahmedias, Shias, Rohingyas, Uighurs, etc., also fall within this legal context. So, even by his own analysis of Article 14, the exclusion of other minority groups from the CAA is inconsistent. 

One must read between the lines, especially when one deviously conflates various provisions of the constitution. To Vijayan’s assertion that the goal of a “Hindu nation” underlies the CAA, Swamy writes: “Unfortunately, Indian Constitution cannot be amended beyond the Basic Structure … as defined by the Supreme Court of India” (emphasis added). It takes a bad writer or a bad editor to let the word “unfortunately” slip in that context. Is Swamy insisting that there should be a way to amend the constitution based on majoritarian Hindu ideas? If so, he violates the secular principles of India, if not by law, then by letter.  

It is surprising, if not disturbing, to see a man nominated to such a high political position, resorting to arguments based on religious divisions to defend the contentious legislation, which has created unprecedented panic in the country. In what can only be understood as a sly attempt, he muddies the subject with a distracting reference to Brahmins not seeking reservation for education and employment opportunities reserved for “backward” caste people, as if to create confusion on the understanding of Article 14, and thus creating a false equivalence. Surely, one cannot think that he is impervious to the knowledge of the premise for reservation in India. He also makes the disappointing provocation that the neighboring countries have “Muslim theocracy”, but his own writing does not hide his desire for a “Hindu nation”: he argues that the constitution incorporates Hindutva and that there are enough provisions to “usher in a Hindu Nation”. With such dubious casteist and communal rhetoric, one wonders as to who Swamy is addressing the article to, for it fails to make sense to a common person who believes in the secular values enshrined in the Indian constitution.

His alma mater Harvard in 2011 dropped his courses following student petitions against his articles that recommended demolishing hundreds of mosques. The lessons have not been learned by the former professor as he continues to write with the same religious fanaticism. With his latest opinion piece, he attempts to obfuscate facts, and more dangerously use it to further the Hindutva rhetoric.

The author is a public policy graduate student at the National University of Singapore. Views expressed are personal. 

Also read: Citizenship Amendment Bill: anti-people, anti-poor, anti-constitutional

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