All Modi-Shah are doing, not just CAA and NRC, is to polarise on communal lines: Yashwant Sinha

Purushottam Diwakar / The India Today Group / Getty Images
23 December, 2019

Various politicians, civil-rights activists and students from across the country have criticised the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party for introducing the “discriminatory” and “unconstitutional” Citizenship (Amendment) Act, 2019. Many of them believed that the act, which was enacted on 12 December, is a precursor to an all-India National Register of Citizens, and together, the policies would raise doubts over the citizenship of Indian Muslims.

Among the critics was Yashwant Sinha, a former union finance minister under the BJP government. “The most suitable reply of the people of India to CAA and NRC should be not to cooperate with the govt and refuse to share any personal or family information with the authorities. Let them declare all of us as non-citizens,” Sinha tweeted, a couple of days after the enactment of the law.

But when news of countrywide protests and police crackdowns started to gain traction, Sinha singled out Muslim protestors in a tweet that appeared to ignore the violence inflicted on members of the community by the police. He wrote, “When secular India is fighting to protect secular values in the country why is the Muslim population taking to violence. In doing so, it is playing into the hands of those who want to polarise society on communal lines. It should stop forthwith.”

In an interview with Abhimanyu Chandra, a PhD student at the University of Chicago, Sinha discussed his statements, the government’s decision to introduce the CAA when the Indian economy is at a low and recent political developments in the country.

Abhimanyu Chandra: You said in a tweet that the best thing that Indians can do is not give their documents for NRC and CAA. Will you be doing that yourself?
Yashwant Sinha: If anyone came to my doorstep and said, “Please prove that you are an Indian citizen,” I will not show them anything. Anything. I will merely tell them, “I am an Indian, jo karna hai kar lo” [Do whatever you want]. An atmosphere is building up and most people might take this course of action.

AC: What do you think about Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s comment about being able to identify protestors with their clothes?YS: The whole purpose of all that they are doing, not just CAA and NRC, that behind all their actions is just one motive—to polarise Indian society on communal lines. Because after all, there are [around] 80 percent Hindus in this country, and if they are able to get 60 percent of those Hindus to vote for them, then they have it made for many, many years to come. This is something that I misread completely—I am guilty, I plead guilty to that.

That this is what this man did—the duo [Modi and the Home Minister Amit Shah] did in Gujarat—because he polarised the Gujarat society. There were few Muslims there. But he was able to raise, or incite Hindu sentiments to continue to vote for him. [Modi] became the Hindu Hriday Samrat [the King of Hindu Hearts] all over the country. And by misusing official funds, he created the image of a great development man in Gujarat [during his chief ministerial tenure]. Gujarat has always been a developed state. There is very little contribution that he made. But he took credit for all the development that had taken place in Gujarat from independence onwards, and even during British rule, and claimed credit for all of that.

That is a tested and tried method in order to get political power for these two—Amit Shah and Modi. And this is what they are replicating at the national level. Behind all their moves, is communal polarisation—his Triple Talaq; his Article 370 and 35A in Jammu and Kashmir, bifurcation of the state; then NRC in Assam, which was a botched-up exercise; now CAA and NRC. Keep the society divided along communal lines, and continue to win elections.

My own feeling is that the communal card is a card that you can play once, twice, thrice. But it will not hold good forever. And the time has come when the Indian electorate is getting bored with this kind of thing.

AC: In a tweet, you, too, singled out the “Muslim population” for taking to violence, noting that it was playing into the hands of those who want to polarise society on communal lines. A lot of violence appears to have been by the police, however—
YS: That is right. But I connect it to the statement that [Prime Minister] Narendra Modi made [about protestors being identifiable by their clothes]. It’s in that context that I tweeted. What I had meant with that tweet was about being conspicuous by their presence. The last thing that you would want is for this to descend into Hindu–Muslim violence. My intention was not to single out the Muslim community. My tweet was in the context of the Seelampur violence from a few days ago. I thought more restraint was called for.

AC: But by singling out the Muslim community, don’t you think that your own tweet is polarising? Do you think you should edit it?
YS: I don’t think that editing is required. The tweet may not hold true for all time to come. They should not be identified [with violence]. The tweet should be linked with Seelampur.

Whatever they do, they should do peacefully. If Muslims are identified as creating violence, they would only be helping Modi and Shah.

AC: How can you be sure that every violent protestor has been Muslim?
YS: If you watch the [videos of the] Seelampur violence, of people who are throwing stones, you can see who they are. I saw on TV and was not happy with what I saw. I felt this is only helping Modi-Shah.

AC: If I, say, go to a protest with a friend who is Muslim, and he is wearing a skullcap. And the protest somehow turns violent and the media captures a picture of him. Are you saying that he should only go to a protest in non-religious attire?
YS: It will help if your friend in a skullcap doesn’t throw stones at the police even if he is provoked. As long as the movement is peaceful, it will not divide society. But the moment it becomes violent, it will raise the hackles of many people who are otherwise sympathetic to it.

AC: I would like to probe the tweet further, and I suppose this may partly be a semantic issue but—
YS: Yes. My intention is very clear. We can discuss this ad nauseam. It helps Modi say that it’s the Muslims who are creating the problem.

AC: Now that we are in the throes of social unrest, what do you think will be the consequences of the Indian economy—both, in macro and micro ways?
YS: At this point, the economy is on a downslide. The social unrest will contribute further to that downslide. Because in all these demonstrations, obviously, millions of man-hours have been lost. That will have an impact on production.

As far as investments are concerned, which must drive any economy, investments have been next to nothing in the last few years because of various developments involving the policies of the government. But this kind of social unrest will deter investors from even thinking about further investments.

The third aspect of this is that we are depending on foreign investment of all kinds. Given the current situation, foreign investors will also be deterred from thinking about investing in India. So, this is not a good thing for the economy.

AC: In the last ten days or so, discussions on economic issues have taken a secondary status in the news. What are the consequences of economic news having disappeared from our front pages?
YS: It is obviously the design of the government to ensure that other matters take over, especially those which polarise society along communal lines. They imagine that people will forget their economic woes. But they will not. In fact, my theory is that the kind of unrest that you see today, is also because of the economic distress that people were in. And they were just looking for a trigger—the CAA and the talk about NRC has provided that trigger. So, while that may be the focus of the unrest today, the underlying economic reasons for it cannot and should not be overlooked.

AC: So, in a sense, the media has partly misread the unrest?
YS: There are two–three things, now that you have raised the issue of the media. One is that the government completely controls the media. The media has become most undependable as a source of information and news. Whatever they are showing is all coloured. Secondly, they have to come to instant conclusions. Therefore, there is no depth in the conclusions that they reach. For both these reasons, they will not connect it with the economic distress that people are facing.

There is a Bihar bandh, for instance. I was watching some local [news] channel, and they were going out to people, to daily wage earners and others, and saying, “Tomorrow there is a bandh, what do you think?” Obviously, the fellow will say, “I will lose out on my bread because I will not be able to earn.” So, this is all meant to discredit those who have organised this bandh, on behalf of those who themselves organise bandhs whenever they can. This is the role that the media is unfortunately playing in our country.

At this point in time there are very, very few people in the media who have the courage to stand up and speak the truth. I will completely discount whatever the media is saying.

AC: There seem to be industrialists who can wield a lot of influence with the government, but are mostly quiet on social matters, like the CAA and the NRC. Why do you think that is?
YS: Even more than the media, the industrialists in this country have covered themselves with mud. Not only in this regime, in all regimes. They suck up to whoever is in power. And even if you give them a hard slap they will say, “Oh, we enjoyed the slap so much, why don’t you slap us some more.”

[Most] of the businessmen and their associates are only, only toeing the government line. The reason for this is that there are so many skeletons in their cupboard, that they know that the long arm of the law will reach them at any point in time when the government wishes. This government has made it very clear to all that they would not mind misusing the investigative agencies of the government, against anyone if they don’t like their faces. So, one can’t expect anything from the corporates, especially at this time. They have always been like that, but they are more like that today.

This interview has been edited and condensed.