How did Narendra Modi join politics?

Modi puts India's democracy to the test

India, with its 1.3 billion inhabitants, is often referred to at home and abroad as the "greatest democracy in the world". The constitution, which came into force 70 years ago, on January 26, 1950, three years after India's independence, played an important part in this. It is largely based on the "Government of India Act" of 1935. What is decisive is that this "perfected colonial constitution", as it is called in a standard work on Indian history, "was placed on a radically changed, democratic foundation." Among other things, universal suffrage, individual fundamental rights and "generous guarantees of legal recourse, including direct fundamental rights complaints to the Supreme Court" were introduced.

"New citizenship law violates constitution"

It is precisely this constitutional guarantee that plays an important role in the current domestic political debate in India - or it could play it. Critics of the new Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) have turned to the Supreme Court to overturn the controversial law passed by the Modi government with its clear parliamentary majority.

Many consider the amended Citizenship Law to be a breach of the constitution

"It violates the constitution in two ways," Madhav Khosla, professor of law and political science at Columbia and Ashoka Universities, told DW. "On the one hand, the constitution guarantees the right to equal treatment for all persons, not just citizens. And since [the new law] treats Muslims differently from non-Muslims without a clear explanation, it is a clear violation The essence of the Indian constitution is an idea of ​​citizenship that is detached from religious identity. And the new citizenship law violates this in a flagrant way, "the Indian constitutional expert concludes.

Discriminatory law against Muslims

The law passed in mid-December simplifies the naturalization of people who came to India as illegal refugees from neighboring countries Bangladesh and Pakistan as well as from Afghanistan before December 2014. However, only members of certain religious communities can benefit from the new regulation, including those that originated in India or were native to before Islamization, i.e. Hindus, Buddhists, Sikhs, Parsees, as well as Christians. This means that Muslims are excluded from the new regulation.

Interior Minister Amit Shah is the driving force behind recent initiatives against "illegal immigration"

Narendra Modi's government presents the law as a humanitarian measure, arguing that Muslims are not persecuted in the aforementioned Islamic countries. Critics do not want to accept this and point out, among other things, that Muslim sects are thoroughly persecuted in these states. Modi and his Hindu nationalist hardliners are more interested in excluding Muslims in general because they interfere with his vision of an "India of the Hindus".

Citizen register as a step towards a two-class society

The head of government is currently devoting himself emphatically to an "old hobbyhorse" of the ruling party BJP, which he leads, as the "Economist" writes: the fight against illegal immigration, as a result of which several million people from neighboring countries "infiltrated" India. This goal is not only served by the amended law on citizenship, but also by a planned national register of citizens (NRC). So far, this has only been levied at enormous costs in the northeastern federal state of Assam, where illegal immigration from Bangladesh has long been causing emotions to boil.

Police on the Jawaharlal Nehru University campus in early January. Previously, right-wing attackers had attacked students there with iron bars.

Within the Muslim population in India, there are fears that the CAA and the NRC will work together in perfidious ways: Anyone who is sorted out of the civil register as illegal can still - provided they belong to a Christian or ancient Indian religious community - become a regular Indian citizen through the CAA. Muslims would be clearly disadvantaged in a nationwide survey. They often do not have the necessary papers such as a birth certificate documenting their place of birth and that of their parents.

Taken together, these measures, if implemented consistently, could result in India's Muslims - a "minority" of 200 million or about 14 percent of the total population - "becoming second-class citizens in terms of public image," writes the Economist.

Protest movement of a new quality

The protest against the Modi government's latest bills began immediately after the CAA was passed in mid-December. It initially focused on Muslim universities and neighborhoods in New Delhi, Lucknow, and other cities, and then took hold of broader strata. The state and "concerned citizens" reacted in some cases with brutal violence.

Demonstration by Christians against the threat of India as a religious state

The India expert Martin Kämpchen, who lives in the Indian state of West Bengal, recognizes an epoch-making development. In the FAZ he writes of a "new culture of protest" that is developing in India and that reminds us of the non-violent movement of Mahathma Gandhi before independence. The protests are not only borne by the affected Muslim population, "but also by students, Christians and a broad section of educated Hindus from the cities. What is new is that many students and other women are joining the protest marches. That even Muslim women take to the streets , is highlighted in astonishment and admiration. " Kämchen recognizes a "wave of solidarity that overcomes the usual divisions between castes, women and men and from religions and which continues to swell."

Many women take part in the protest movement against Modi's agenda

How will the Supreme Court judge?

The question is whether this wave of solidarity is sufficient to stand up to the prime minister, who has a strong parliamentary majority, in transforming India into a "nation of Hindus". This is where the constitution comes into play again. It is true that - following the British example - it gives the leader of the majority party in Parliament a very strong position. As a counterbalance there is - unlike in Great Britain - an equally strong constitutional court. Between this and the parliament "there is a complex power structure [...] which has developed in a veritable duel between the two state organs", it says in a legal standard work.

Modi should take care of more urgent problems than a civil register, demand these demonstrators

The exciting question now is whether this duel will take place again on the occasion of the CAA. Last Wednesday, the Supreme Court officially approved a whole batch of petitions against the new law. First, the government has to respond to the petitions within four weeks, then the court wants to judge its decision on the constitutional conformity of the CAA with a bench of five judges.

Harmful lack of real opposition

Whatever the decision of the five judges, constitutional expert Madhav Khosla believes that even more important with regard to the future of Indian democracy is the resurgence of a genuine political opposition, because at least at the national level in India, the parties apart from the BJP have "failed miserably . " The crucial question is not whether the constitution will save Indian democracy, but whether Indian politics will save the constitution.