The HINDU Notes – 04th January 2020 - VISION

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Saturday, January 04, 2020

The HINDU Notes – 04th January 2020

📰 Defying the legalisation of the unjustifiable

The Citizenship Act protests are a reminder that civil liberties and rights apply to even those whom the state may hate

•Widespread protests against the National Register of Citizens (NRC) and the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, or CAA, 2019, have severely dented the image of the Narendra Modi government. Trying to repair the damage while pushing ahead with their divisive agenda, the regime’s spokespersons have repeatedly asserted that the recently approved National Population Register (NPR) is not new, not related to the NRC, and not something to worry about. Only the first of these three claims is partially true, and only in a literal sense.

A powerful instrument

•It is indeed true that the NPR is envisioned in the Citizenship Act of 1955, and that it was revived by the Atal Bihari Vajpayee-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government when it amended the citizenship Act and rules in 2003. It is also true that the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) first implemented it in 2010 along with the 2011 Census. However, to say that there is nothing new about the NPR in today’s transformed context is to speak in bad faith. The addition of unnecessary intrusive questions — on the place and date of birth of each parent, place of last residence, and Aadhaar, PAN (Permanent Account Number), driving licence, voter card and mobile phone numbers – makes it far more potent as an instrument of surveillance and harassment. Add the statements linking it to the NRC made in the recent past by representatives of the present government, and it is obvious why, unlike its first incarnation, the 2020 avatar of the NPR is being seen as a rudra or terrifying avatar.

Violation of norms

•Modern governance requires states to collect two broad kinds of data based on individuation and aggregation. Individuating data provides information on specific individuals, while aggregating data profiles groups or collectivities. Group-oriented data also begins with particular persons, but aggregation masks or “anonymises” them, thus yielding information only on collectivities such as illiterate persons or tax payers. Individual-oriented data is also pooled and consolidated, but the specific persons it covers remain identifiable. Norms of good governance dictate that the scope of individuating data be restricted, and that, on the other hand, databases with universal or wide coverage be confined to aggregated data that cannot identify individuals. The government’s relentless effort to push for maximum individuation along with maximum coverage violates and reverses established norms regulating the collection of social statistics.

•The probable consequences of this reversal are illustrated by the contrary example of the Indian census, where the assurance of anonymity balances the coercive legal force of the state. The Census Act, 1948 requires all persons residing on Indian territory to truthfully answer the schedules canvassed by the enumerators of the Census of India — failure to do so is punishable with a fine. However, most Indians may not be aware that Section 11 of the same Act imposes even higher penalties on officials who falsify or disclose census data – they may also be jailed for three years. In fact, unpublished census data cannot be accessed by government departments, and Section 15 of the Census Act exempts it from the Indian Evidence Act so that it cannot be used in courts of law.

Weakening of anonymity

•To appreciate the full significance of this commitment to anonymity, consider the fact that the 2011 Census revealed that, between 2007 and 2011, 74 lakh Indians were married below the legal age of 18. Under the Prohibition of Child Marriage Act, 2006, those responsible are liable to be fined up to ₹1 lakh and/or imprisoned for up to two years. And yet the Census data cannot be used to identify them — it can only tell us, at best, that the incidence of under-age marriages is the highest in districts like Bhilwara and Chittorgarh, Rajasthan. In sharp contrast, the NPR, and especially the NRC offer no anonymity while collecting actionable personal data, but nevertheless impose coercive, census-like universal coverage.

•To be sure, states do need to collect individuating data, which is usually justified by invoking national security or the efficient targeting of welfare benefits. We also know that throughout history, states have collected information on groups such as criminals or political rivals. However, such exercises are of limited scope; they do not compulsorily include the entire population. They also have internal safeguards and/or offer clear benefits for respondents. It is noteworthy that the NPR and the NRC include none of these features. Actually, the NPR is nothing like the Census – it is only logistical efficiency that makes the former use the proven field machinery of the latter. It is also a logically, practically and politically necessary precondition for the NRC, without which it is pointless.

Faith in the state

•Ultimately, the key question is that of the people’s faith in the state. In ex-colonies such as India that have won their independence through a freedom struggle, the post-colonial state gains a priceless inheritance of popular trust. After all, most people are unaware of the safeguards for anonymity built into the census; and yet they freely provide information because they trust the government. It is this trust that the present government seems determined to squander.

•What is all this for? Imagine that the NPR-NRC exercise has been completed successfully, and has identified ‘x’ lakh “non-citizens”. What then? The only “plan” the government seems to have is to convert these ‘x’lakh self-supporting persons, who have presumably contributed to their local economies, into permanent inmates of detention centres and eternal wards of the state. Since such a plan clearly makes no sense as policy, we have to turn to alternative explanations.

•As Kautilya, Machiavelli and Foucault remind us in their various ways, the point of the law is to exercise power. Laws are not necessarily meant to abolish whatever they render illegal; they are meant to trap particular subjects and practices in zones of illegality where they will be most susceptible to power. Graded or hierarchical citizenship has been unjustifiable in our republic, though it has been integral to our social practice. The NPR-NRC and CAA initiatives seem designed to coerce us into legalising the unjustifiable and normalising indefensible prejudices.

•And once the forces behind these initiatives have tasted victory, why will they stop? For there is no end to prejudices in our hierarchy-saturated culture.

•But the nation-wide protests tell us that the story is far from finished. They remind those who think they are our rulers of two crucial truths. First, that civil liberties and democratic rights are defined by the inconvenient fact that they must also be granted to those whom we may fear, hate or despise. And second, that the most rudra of rudraavatars are a people who have lost faith in their state.

📰 Missing the wood: On anti-CAA resolution in Kerala Assembly

Rather than denounce Kerala’s CAA resolution, Centre must seek to understand the objections

•The Kerala Assembly’s resolution calling upon the Centre to repeal the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, 2019, reflects the widespread unease and disquiet the legislation has caused. Rather than treat it as a controversy over the question whether a State Assembly is competent to question the law on a matter under the Union government’s domain, the Centre should reflect on the core issue: that the CAA may be in violation of the equality norm and secular principles enshrined in the Constitution. Given how deeply the country is divided on the changes in the law, Kerala’s example may set the stage for a wider confrontation between the Centre and States that have expressed their disinclination to give effect to the Centre’s policy in this regard. The resolution reflects a legitimate concern that in enacting the CAA, the Centre has written a patently discriminatory norm into the law. There is justified opposition across India on the amendment’s implications, especially in combination with the expected follow-up action in the form of establishing a citizenship register. Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan is among several CMs who have spoken out against the CAA’s discriminatory nature, but his has been the first regime to adopt a formal resolution for repeal. The Centre must make an effort to understand the underpinnings of the ongoing protests against its amendments, of which the Kerala resolution is surely a part.

•Union Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad and Kerala Governor Arif Mohammad Khan have denounced the adoption of such a resolution, the former arguing that all States had a constitutional duty to implement central laws. However, the principal objection — that citizenship being a matter concerning the Union, it is not open to State Assemblies to give their opinion on it — is not valid. To the extent that a State government believes that a parliamentary law is not constitutional, it is entirely in order for the State legislature to call for its repeal. Further, a resolution is not legislation, and is not governed by the principle of legislative competence. It is only an expression of a political opinion. Tamil Nadu, for instance, has passed several resolutions concerning India’s foreign policy — such as asking for a war crimes probe against Sri Lanka and even a referendum on ‘Tamil Eelam’. There is a technical problem on the resolution’s admissibility. Kerala Assembly rules say matters pending before a court or those that do not concern the State should not be admitted in the form of a resolution. However, these are minor issues. Ultimately, the House Speaker decides on admitting a resolution, and it is an internal matter. Voicing support for the CAA and disapproval of Kerala’s resolution are also valid political opinions, but these should not translate into any ill-advised action such as hauling up the Chief Minister before the Privileges Committee of Parliament.

📰 Bracing for global impact after Soleimani’s assassination

There are apprehensions that the Iranian commander’s death may be avenged by a thousand cuts

•Yesterday’s targeted assassination of Major General Qassem Soleimani, Commander of Quds Force of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), bears two important differences from recent targets of similar U.S. operations. Unlike Abu Musaib al-Zarqawi (leader of the al-Qaeda in Iraq), Osama bin Laden (founder of the al-Qaeda) and Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, (founder of the Islamic State, or the IS), Gen. Soleimani, 62, was a state actor. Second, unlike the previous three, he was not past his prime. Both these factors could lead to more substantive fallout.

•The U.S. has sought to link the operation to a surge in attacks on its assets and personnel in Iraq. America proscribed the Qods Force and Gen. Qassem Soleimani more than 12 years ago for terrorism, but has not acted. In fact, during 2017-18, the U.S. indirectly collaborated with the Hashd Al-Shabi created by Gen. Soleimani, to defeat the IS. Gen. Soleimani was a frequent visitor to Iraq, and these visits were hardly secret. Moreover, had the U.S. wished to avoid a direct confrontation, it could have steered clear of taking public responsibility for the operation. But, presumably for domestic political reasons, it decided otherwise, thereby throwing down a risky “double-or-quit” gauntlet, at Tehran. Yet, unlike the targeted assassination of the IS chief in October, the U.S. President has, uncharacteristically avoided taking personal credit. Therefore, the handling of this operation raises more questions than it answers.

Pivotal figure

•Gen. Soleimani hailed from a modest background in Kerman, far from the country’s traditional power centres. He was a child of the revolution, fought with distinction as a member of the IRGC in the Iraq-Iran war and was from 1998 the founder-commander of its Qods Force, formed for extra-territorial operations. During the past decade, he managed to leverage the disarray to enhance Iranian influence in Arab countries with a significant Shia population such as Lebanon, Iraq, Syria and Yemen.

•He astutely created a network of local sympathisers and proxies and waged effective asymmetric wars. Unlike many Iranian public figures, he was untainted by corruption. His accomplishments earned him a cult-like following among most Iranians and their regional proxies. The U.S. and its Sunni allies saw his successes being at their cost. In an unguarded comment in 2017 that caused much alarm, he claimed that four Arab capitals were under Iranian sway.

•Iranian authorities have reacted with predictable vehemence at Gen. Soleimani’s “martyrdom” and vowed vengeance. This tit-for-tat between the U.S. and Iran could easily go out of hand and lead to a major confrontation in a pyretic and fragile region, with unpredictable consequences. Both the antagonists have their respective domestic compulsions: Mr. Trump faces a Senate impeachment and re-election and Iran has its parliamentary elections next month. These factors would, hopefully, limit their options to low-intensity skirmishes. Iran has in the past used its foreign proxies, many of which were created and fostered by Gen. Soleimani, and they may now be itching to avenge his loss. Moving concentrically, Gen. Soleimani’s assassination in Baghdad is one incident most Iraqis could do without. It is likely to queer the pitch for Iraq, a hapless country with a caretaker government convulsed by nearly three months of youth protests, inter alia, against undue foreign interference by both Iran and the U.S.

•The event is likely to re-polarise Iraqi society along sectarian lines and intensify the Iran-U.S. competition for influence. In a worst case scenario, Iraq could turn into the new Syria. The popular Iraqi clamour for political reforms and transparency may be eclipsed by the demand for eviction of the U.S. presence itself.

Oil sector as target

•At a regional level, anxiety may rise about Gen. Soleimani’s death being avenged by a thousand cuts at the interests of the U.S. and its allies. This may involve resumed attacks on oil tankers and other low hanging but high value economic targets, particularly in the oil sector. Global oil prices have already seen a 4% rise within hours of the incident due to the “fear premium”; unless de-escalated, jittery commodity speculators may spin out of control.

•The urge for a riposte runs deep in the Iranian psyche. The U.S. has a global presence but that also brings in vulnerabilities. All that can be safely predicted is that the situation remains highly unpredictable.

Potential fallout, on India

•India has already had considerable difficulties in meandering through the obstacle course created by the U.S.-Iran cold war. While we need to be on the right side of the U.S., our ties with Iran, apart from being “civilisational”, have their own geostrategic logic. Now that the conflict has turned hot, its adverse impact on India could magnify. Apart from a rise in our oil import bill and difficulties in supplies, the safety of an estimated eight million expatriates in the Gulf may be affected. Iran has the capacity to influence the U.S.-Taliban peace process in Afghanistan, a neighbouring country. Last but not the least, after Iran, India has perhaps the largest number of the world’s Shia population and the possibility of some of them being radicalised by this event cannot be ruled out. It can be argued that had the U.S. not invaded Iraq in 2003 creating the mother of all chaos, Qassem Soleimani and his Qods Force would have largely remained a sideshow in Lebanon. So his targeted assassination yesterday completes the circle.

📰 Pinarayi writes to 11 CMs on CAA

‘Pass Assembly resolution against Act’

•Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan has written to 11 Chief Ministers, urging them to emulate the model set by the Kerala Assembly in passing a resolution demanding that the Centre scrap the Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA) 2019.

•Mr. Vijayan’s move to elicit the cooperation of 11 States in the fight against the CAA comes in the wake of BJP leader G.V.L. Narasimha Rao filing a petition with the Rajya Sabha Chairman for initiating breach of privilege proceedings against him for passing the resolution.

•Mr. Vijayan, in his letter, said the Act had triggered apprehensions among large sections of society and the need of the hour was unity among all Indians who wished to protect the country’s democratic and secular values.

•People from different sections, irrespective of their different opinions, should unite to preserve the basic tenets of the polity which form the cornerstone of democracy, he said.

‘NPR put on hold’

•Kerala had decided to address the apprehensions about the National Register of Citizens (NRC). Preparation of the National Population Register (NPR) would eventually lead to the NRC. The government had stayed all activities related to the NPR in the State, Mr. Vijayan said.

•Drawing attention to the resolution passed by the Kerala Assembly on December 31 expressing concern over the impact of the CAA on the nation’s secular credentials and requesting the Centre to repeal it, Mr. Vijayan said those States which felt that the Act should be repealed could consider similar steps.

•The letter has been forwarded to the Chief Ministers of Jharkhand, West Bengal, Delhi, Maharashtra, Bihar, Puducherry, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Punjab, Andhra Pradesh and Odisha.

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