The Citizens Amendment Act: Disinformation, Propaganda and Misinformed Opinion

By Dr R Neerunjun Gopee

The Week-End newspaper of last Sunday 26th January carries an interview of the Leader of the Opposition, Hon Dr Arvind Boolell. Dr Boolell explains why the Opposition collectively boycotted the President’s Speech and why he does not consider it a paradox that the Opposition will nevertheless take part in the debates on that speech. Further, he elaborates to some extent on his role and style as Leader of the Opposition, and indicates that when the time comes he intends to stake a claim to the leadership of the Labour Party, which he thinks is legitimate and which he has shared with LP’s leader Dr Navin Ramgoolam. Should this eventuality materialize in a foreseeable future and he becomes leader of LP, and should the LP win a future election with him as leader, then potentially he would be the Prime Minister.

I think it would be fair to say that in view of his political track record Dr Boolell is a respected voice in local politics. Now that he is Leader of the Opposition, his opinions will carry weight and authority, and are likely to be heard in the relevant regional and international spaces, as well as locally. And this is where lies the importance of his view on the Citizens Amendment Act of India, which he expressed in reply to a question on the subject in his interview, and which is as follows:

‘La culture indienne millénaire repose sur le respect des autres, et sur sa grande tolérance. Cette loi et d’autres, promulguées, peuvent conduire à une situation ou des personnes nées et élevées en Inde se retrouvent apatrides du jour au lendemain, à cause des mesures prises contre elles. Des mesures liées au fait qu’elles font partie d’une minorité.’

This is an incorrect understanding of the CAA which, it must be emphasized, has been approved by both houses of the Indian Parliament after due process, i.e. extensive debates in the Parliament, as is expected of a mature democracy. The great risk is that those with a poor or no knowledge of the CAA and the other legislations, and with no interest to find out the correct facts, may cite Hon Boolell’s opinion on the subject. They will thus spread misinformation about India and the Indian government’s initiative – which, unwittingly, Dr Boolell’s name too will be dragged into, definitively something which the holder of such a high constitutional post as Leader of the Opposition would wish to avoid.

Having been Foreign Affairs Minister in the past, Hon Boolell certainly knows more than most about the need to have the correct information about any country, and particularly those countries which have been our traditional valued partners and supporters by virtue of their being the source of our diasporic origins. And now that he is Leader of the Opposition, he must imperatively be thoroughly knowledgeable about such sensitive matters so that at all times he is prepared to give the correct answers.

Hon Boolell and all those within the Labour and other parties who aspire to the top post in government would do well to remember that Sir Seewoosagur Ramgoolam owed his rise to the pinnacle of the Labour Party in the 1960s, and eventually as Prime Minister, on the strength of the parliamentary leadership he demonstrated initially on the opposition benches, and later as Premier over the years prior to the accession of the country to Independence. The same can also be said about Hon Berenger in later years.

Historians will undoubtedly record, amongst other things, SSR’s track record as a parliamentarian and his mastery of critical issues being debated in the House. Never a word too many or too little, he would strive to stay within the bounds of political decorum, and certainly would have refrained from attempts at political correctness by making damaging and hurtful remarks of the ‘catori’-type heard during the last electoral campaign.

Unlike so many arrivistes that most parties have known, Hon Boolell has worked his way up to the deputy leadership of the LP, and his ambition to lead the Party is a legitimate one. He would surely know what is required – and not required – to make it to the top despite any odds that may come in his way.

* * *

The Citizens Amendment Act

As regards the CAA, I would humbly suggest that if he so wishes the Hon Leader of Opposition may obtain the correct information by going through the clarifications issued by India’s Home Affairs Ministry available at: › 21122019-qa-indias-ministry-of-home-affairs.

May I also add that in public declarations they have made, both Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi and the Home Minister Shri Amit Shah have unequivocally stated that no Indian citizen is going to be deprived of his/her citizenship under the CAA. Besides, several activists, such as lawyer Subuhi Khan, have been going round the country to give the correct information about CAA, answer questions, and reassure the people in a bid to counter the fear-mongering campaign that the Opposition has orchestrated. The possibility that the latter is being financed from outside forces hostile to India has been evoked, and apparently the relevant investigating authorities have adduced evidence to this effect. As the situation unfolds, it is quite likely that more will come to be revealed and of course it is up to the Indian authorities to decide how they are going to tackle all the sensitive issues that are cropping up in this matter.

Every country has citizenship laws

A few days back it was announced by the BBC that the US Supreme Court has backed a measure introduced by the Trump administration that restricts the granting of permanent citizenship to a certain category of people who have already entered the country. One of the first measures that was taken by the Trump administration was to reinforce border controls at the Mexico-US boundary so as to severely limit the entry of people from South and Central America into the US, and the project of setting up a wall is still on the cards. The influx of refugees from south of the Mexico border has since considerably reduced. Nevertheless, many are those who still attempt to reach the US, at considerable hardship.

Several other countries have stringent citizenship laws, especially regarding male foreign spouses of their citizens. Malaysia, which has criticized India about the CAA, is one such country which has harsh citizenship laws. As for the Gulf States, it is practically impossible to obtain citizenship there, but it is noteworthy that the UAE has at the very outset declared that the CAA is an internal matter of India. So too has Bangladesh. This has been reaffirmed to the European Union by the Indian Embassy in Brussels a few days ago, as the European Parliament was planning to debate India’s CAA on a motion brought by an obscure Pakistani from Mirpur living in Britain who is a member of the European Parliament.

As far England goes, it is the anti-India lobby dominated press which has been stoking the fires. Circulating on social media is the cover of the English newspaper The Economist loudly headlined ‘Intolerant India’. The least that one can say is that The Economist is suffering from amnesia.

Theresa May as Home Secretary was the one who introduced the ‘Hostile Environment Policy; which led to the notorious Windrush Scandal. ‘HostieH H=

A Guide To The Hostile Environment’ by a group called Liberty published Testimonies of Windrush citizens published in early 2018. It set out how people who came to the UK as citizens and had lived here for decades lost their homes, livelihoods, and basic social rights as the introduction of the hostile environment meant that public authorities and providers of essential services began to demand proof of their immigration status. It has since emerged that more than 80 Windrush citizens were wrongly deported, with an unknown number of other people left with no choice but to leave the UK. Some people died before the Home Office was able to trace them and attempt to make amends. It also emerged the Home Office had destroyed landing cards that would have helped people show evidence of their stay in the UK, adding that the Windrush Scandal is far from over.

From India comes a post which describes the attitude aptly: ‘The Economist considers lecturing India and its current incumbents from a position where it assumes for itself a divine, self-righteous and morally superior pedestal with a sense of patronizing zeal. To give behavioural lessons to the world’s largest democracy it must assume for itself the role of a super class teacher… Really takes a load of guts to enact this illusion…’

More than that, it’s a delusion. It would be better for The Economist to look in its own front yard and back yard. Brexit is coming, and in its wake there are threats of further exits by some member states which do not want to be bound by what they perceive to be the unacceptable diktats of Brussels as regards the influx of ‘refugees’.

But India will march on. Why, even the IMF after its declaration at Davos about the slowing down of India’s growth has now added that this is temporary. And the latest is that slow growth is not such a bad thing after all! So says Dietrich Vollrath in his recent book, ‘Fully Grown: Why a Stagnant Economy is a Sign of Success’ – the book is reviewed in the very same issue of The Economist of 23rd January in which there is the leader that purports to lecture Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi.

No wonder the economists themselves call their discipline ‘the dismal science’. Nevertheless, my economist friends know that I do value their opinions…

* Published in print edition on 31 January 2020

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