The lack of homework by the Modi government on the adverse implications of the CAA is now clearly visible both domestically and internationally, writes Alakh Ranjan for South Asia Monitor
Foreign policy has been a major focus area for Prime Minister Narendra Modi. It is an area in which he has invested a lot of his energy and made efforts to reinvent. He has made numerous trips, travelling across the globe to increase India’s outreach, addressed the Indian diaspora, and given new acronyms such as ‘SAGAR’(security and growth for all in the region), ‘Act East’, ‘JAI,’ (Japan, America, India) etc. The neighbourhood has occupied centre stage under Modi’s foreign policy. By calling leaders of the SAARC (South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation) nations for his first swearing-in ceremony and following it up by inviting BIMSTEC (Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation) leaders to his second swearing-in, his government delivered a message about the paramount importance of India’s neighbouring countries in its foreign policy. The first tenure of Modi saw mixed results, both domestically and in terms of foreign policy. The bright spot for the Modi 1.0 government was increased engagement with the immediate neighbours. The government returned with an emphatic win in 2019 despite the economic slowdown towards the second half of the first term.
Modi 2.0, with its enormous majority in Parliament, was expected to work towards foregrounding the economic revival and effective foreign policy. His second term has not worked much on improving the economy, but it has taken two important steps. The abrogation of Article 370 in Kashmir and passing of the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA). The abrogation of Article 370 did not create much fuss at the domestic level and was managed internationally through effective diplomacy. But the CAA seems to have opened a Pandora’s box of critical scrutiny for the government, both domestically and internationally.
Bangladesh, which has been assured by Modi on multiple occasions about the National Register of Citizens (NRC), was first to react to the CAA. Bangladesh’s Foreign Minister, who was to visit New Delhi, and Home Minister, who was due to visit Meghalaya on a private visit, cancelled their visits after the Bill passed through Parliament. Although the MEA clarified that the visits were cancelled due to scheduling issues, Bangladesh Foreign Minister, AK Abdul Momen said the CAA could hamper India’s historic character as a secular nation and no minority repression was happening in Bangladesh. This shows the uneasiness in Bangladesh over the new Act.
Bangladesh has different concerns over the CAA and Assam’s NRC. First, the CAA, which will provide hastened citizenship to all persecuted minorities belonging to the Hindu, Sikh, Jain, Parsi, Buddhist and Christian communities residing in Afghanistan, Bangladesh, and Pakistan, hurts Bangladesh’s image as a liberal economy. Bangladesh, which is growing at over 8% GDP, is performing well on socio-economic indicators. It does not want to be presented as a country where people are facing minority repression, as it will dent its growth story. Second, Bangladesh is battling the Rohingya problem. It does not want a greater resource burden from a refugee population, which could disrupt its economic rise.
President Ashraf Ghani’s government has also shown its displeasure over the CAA. Afghanistan's Ambassador to India Tahir Qadiry made a statement and mentioned the steps taken by Afghanistan, post the Taliban era, for the minorities. Following this, MEA (Ministry of External Affairs) issued a clarification stating that Home Minister Amit Shah referred to persecuted minorities during the Taliban’s time in his speech in Parliament.
Another major impact of CAA was Japanese Premier Shinzo Abe cancelling his visit to India. This has substantially dented India’s image across the globe. Shinzo Abe was set to visit Guwahati and announce Japanese investments for the North-East. This visit would have sent strong signals to China. This visit was closely followed by China as Guwahati is located less than 200 km from the state of Arunachal Pradesh, over which China lays its claims.
The visit would have helped the Modi government showcase its commitment towards the North-East and spell out how it plans to develop the North-East, which is a gateway for India to South-East Asia. Development of the North-East will improve connectivity and the economy which will be mutually beneficial for India and countries of South-East Asia. The ‘Act East Policy’ cannot take off without the North-East and India now understands that it needs to increase its presence in South-East Asia to counter rapidly increasing Chinese influence in the region.
The lack of homework by the Modi government on the adverse implications of the CAA is now clearly visible both domestically and internationally. The protests are ongoing across the country, especially in the universities, led by the students. The police brutality on the protestors has been condemned by various countries. The United Nations Human Rights Organisation has also termed the CAA as fundamentally discriminatory. This Act has hurt India’s global image as a country which promotes liberal values and inclusivity. India needs to solve this CAA conundrum or it may cause colossal damage to India’s foreign policy for a very long time.
(The writer is doing his Master’s in Politics & International Relations from Jamia Milia Islamia, New Delhi)