The violent agitation against the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) also had its comic moments.

This is a season of lots of fun amidst animal passion working overtime. It has left many muddle-headed, unsure of whether to laugh or cry. The Central government brought CAA hoping to end the untold miseries of Hindu refugees and earn some brownie points from compassionate Indians, but its assessment went awry. The Act caused a neurological disorder, leading people to react in weird ways. Of course, goondas and politicians did not get affected for their brains had no cerebrum. They went on doing their job efficiently – burning vehicles, destroying property, attacking policemen and inciting criminals to resort to mindless violence.

Also read: Citizenship law: The fact explained and the myth busted

For once, in independent India, an Act specifically mentioned about Hindus. It shook the secular conscience of some Indians so badly that their normal reactions went completely haywire and they began talking and behaving awkwardly. Students who were supposed to study fought guerilla war with stones and petrol bombs. Young girls in teens shrieked while young boys indulged in arson and looted shops. They wouldn’t care whether they would die because there was always a beautiful life after death. It was the thrill of action that captured their imagination to fight till they die. Actually, most of them did not know why they were hurling stones when they had been asked to join a fair or ‘some’ gathering. The reaction of boys during Bihar Bandh organized by Tejashwi Yadav was of course the ultimate. They said they had joined the Bandh to get Laloo Yadav released.

Those who are enrolled in IIMS and IITs to prepare themselves for heading companies, managing start-ups and joining industry hit the streets like trade union workers. Far away, in Boston and Chicago, Indian Americans – mostly Muslim students, doctors, computer professionals etc. marched denouncing the Act but they were careful not to raise slogans that would prompt the US police to deport them back to India, ending their American dream.

What struck as hilarious was Ramchandra Guha’s antics. Instead of writing history which he is extremely good at, he stood at a road crossing attempting to explain to the media person why he was there. The reason certainly couldn’t be the Act because he is educated and must have read its provisions. Maybe, it was the awful civic conditions in Bengaluru that he was upset with. A couple of policemen on duty in the area shoved him away, thinking he was probably a vagabond. This hugely upset Kiran Mazumdar Shaw, MD of Biocon Limited. She was furious how Gandhi’s biographer could be manhandled in this manner. Have a heart, miss Shaw. Most policemen can’t even recognize Yediyurappa, their chief minister. Surely Guha does not figure in the rogues’ gallery hanging in police stations for policemen to know his eminence. William Dalrymple, the famous author, stretched his literary creativity a bit too far. He discovered straws of the ‘beginning of emergency’ in Guha’s 30 minutes’ detention. Generally, Dalrymple is credited with expressing in his books after enormous, painstaking research. He should have also tried to excavate facts and circumstances that had led to emergency in 1975. By not doing so, he has let down his fans including me. In pre-emergency swoop by the police, leaders were not detained for 30 minutes nor did chief ministers feel apologetic.

Nobel laureate Venkatraman Ramakrishnan also fell victim to the insidious spell cast by the CAA. He had a strange vibe that the Act would make 200 million Muslims feel unsafe. Borrowing an expression from his kitchen, he warned ‘the Act was not a good recipe for harmony’. Wish, he had concentrated more on research in chemistry and made us feel proud by getting one more Nobel prize rather than commenting on a subject that he was obviously not familiar with. Arundhati Roy, the Booker Prize winning author, lived up to her reputation of always putting her foot in her mouth but this time this foot was a bit heavier. She asked, ‘are we going to stand in line to comply with NRC?’. Her problem is with ‘standing in line and not with producing documents to establish her nationality. One doesn’t know whether she is equally frustrated while checking in and passing through the immigration at the airports. Priyanka Gandhi, the poster girl of the Congress, echoed similar angst while speaking in her protest rallies. One can understand Priyanka’s reaction. She may not be familiar with standing in line at the airport or for ration, water etc, because of her royal lineage.

You expected the ‘Award Wapsi Gang’ to be active again on the CAA. But it did not happen. When I checked the list, I realized that hardly any from the list of likely withdrawees had received any award since May 2014. Very clever of PM Modi. But he made one mistake. He awarded Padma Shri to Urdu writer Mujtaba Hussain who has decided to return it but who knows. He writes comics and maybe, he is playing a prank. The most side-splitting comment came from the Progressive Urdu Writers’ Association of Hyderabad. It accused that ‘killers of Gandhi yesterday are killing youth today’. But Nathuram Godse is no longer alive and policemen involved in firing at students are yet to be adopted by Mohan Bhagwat.   

It was also too much to absorb the impact of the CAA by actors and artists since they had never previously dealt with constitutional Bills. Their responses were naturally disoriented. Kamal Hassan, Tollywood’s rejected scion, thought the CAA was a ‘new law to check the infiltration’. Actor Siddharth announced that he would pay any price to prevent Modi from placing ‘Indian democracy’ under Sotheby’s hammer as ‘it was not for sale’. Indeed, very patriotic of the actor. TM Krishna, the Carnatic music vocalist wanted Bengalureans to ‘hit the street screaming against the Act … to keep our society alive’. Must admire his out of box suggestion. One hopes, he knows the limits of hitting streets in protests. They can easily turn the streets into battle fields.

Farhan Akhtar is a real entertainer. He called the Act discriminatory and justified it by saying ‘if everything is ok, why would so many people turn up not just in Kranti Maidan, Mumbai but in Delhi, Assam and Bangalore.’ Anurag Kashyap and Anubhav Sinha thought CAA was ‘fascist’ and ‘divisive’- very difficult expressions to be correctly understood by babies in law who are capable of mounting only churlish fair on 70 mm screen. Md Zakariya, director of Malayalam Movie “Sudani from Nigeria’ and his co-writer Muhsin Purari boycotted the national film award ceremony to protest the alleged police violence in Jamia Milia university, without checking facts or understanding the complexity of the situation.

But they are artists - impressionable and emotional. What about the sun-dried, street obsessed West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee? She wants UN-monitored referendum to be held on CAA and NRC. She probably envisions herself as another Jawaharlal Nehru who had rushed to the UN in 1948 with the Kashmir issue and returned with UN agreeing to hold referendum to decide J&K’s final status. Uddhav Thackeray, Maharashtra’s green horn chief minister, was not far behind in creating a new version of history. He saw a repeat of Jallianwala Bagh massacre in police action in Jamia Milia. It is not his fault. He is a professional photographer. In his preoccupation with learning his new job he picked a wrong lens that showed policemen as General Dyer and Muslim students pelting students as Sikhs and Hindus dying in heaps. 

Alas! If the agitation over CAA stops, all this fun will be gone.                                      

(Amar Bhushan is a former special director with the Research and Analysis Wing)