Citizenship and rising global insecurity


The unrest currently flaring in India’s North-East region over the country’s Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, while unfortunate, should compel countries in South Asia in particular, claiming democratic credentials, to focus on citizenship and its implications for national security and nation-building. At first blush, the majority of observers may not see a link between citizenship and national security, for instance, but on closer scrutiny a veritable umbilical link between the two could be found.

Right away it needs to be stated that India, being easily the most advanced and progressive democracy in this region, could handle her internal crises quite capably and is in no need of any sort of external tutelage on this score. However, the rest of South Asia is not so fortunate on account of many of its states having very little to show by way of democratic development. But India’s current ‘troubles’ in her North-East could be made a kick-off point to explore the links between citizenship, national security and nation-building.

It ought to prove very worrisome for India that her North-East is thus facing citizenship-linked unrest. This is on account of the region’s immense economic and strategic value. Since she launched her ‘Look East’ policy some years back, the North-East has been seen by India as her veritable gateway to the ASEAN region, whose economic importance to almost every country cannot be emphasized enough. Consequently, India must be looking to bringing stability to the region as quickly as possible.

However, the rest of South Asia in particular should see the re-emergence of citizenship as a hot issue in India’s politics as being of profound importance to it as well. This is mainly because countries such as Sri Lanka are yet to work out the full implications of citizenship for nation-building. A citizen is not a mere a statistic on paper. On the contrary she is central to a country’s development and if she is not seen in this light, the country concerned is bound to have law and order issues. That is, national security could be undermined. This phenomenon is being witnessed in Asia and outside, the US included.

Despite her current ‘troubles’, India should be seen as having advanced farthest in correctly conceptualizing citizenship in the global South and in working out its full implications. Reading Articles 14, 15 and 16, for example, of the fundamental rights chapter of the Indian Constitution could prove very instructive for policy and decision-makers in our part of the world. This columnist believes that some very important bench marks in good governance are laid out in this chapter.

What is of singular importance in the fundamental rights chapter of the Indian Constitution is the fact that the state takes complete and unambiguous responsibility for upholding and nurturing fundamental rights. To begin with, the state is clearly and cogently defined. It includes not only the main organs of the central government but also state legislatures and local government authorities.

This leaves us in no doubt as to who is responsible for upholding fundamental rights. Besides, the state’s responsibilities in this connection are clearly spelt out. Article 15:1 of the fundamental rights chapter, for example, states: ‘The state shall not discriminate against any citizen on grounds of religion, race, caste, sex, place of birth of any of them.’

Needless to say, these constitutional provisions and more would stand the current disaffected persons and groups of the North-East in very good stead in their efforts to secure their rights. When the rights of the citizen are laid out with such abundant clarity, holding the state accountable for any rights violations would not prove difficult. We would be stating the obvious by saying that the Indian superior courts have proved very impartial dispensers of justice over the decades and would hold the scales evenly between the citizen and the state.

The added importance of the foregoing is that citizenship issues are very much at the heart of gathering local and international insecurity. India’s North-East is just one case in point. Issues at the centre of security are currently obfuscated by a lopsided stress by states on the external and military dimensions in security. This is true of the South as well as of the North. Strong armies, intelligence apparatuses, amply protected borders, cyber security etc. are integral to internal security but that is not all.

It is the protection and perpetuation of fundamental rights by states and their agencies that lays the fundamental groundwork for national security. Unfortunately, even the US seems to be ignoring or glossing over this basic requirement. As this is being written terror attacks are on the rise in all parts of the world, including the US. In one of the most recent of such attacks, three US naval officers were killed by a Lone Wolf terrorist of Saudi Arabian origin at a naval base in Florida. A couple of weeks back terror attacks on the London Bridge and in the The Netherlands claimed a few civilian lives.

It is no coincidence, that terror attacks are thus on the rise against the backdrop of the Trump administration showing in plain terms that the US is no longer an inclusive state where a plurality of identities could take deep root. The Muslim community in particular was all but shown the door in the US under President Trump.

Violence for whatever reason cannot be condoned and should be condemned. There is no justification for it. But the terrorist bred by extremist religious outfits stops at nothing because he is ‘brain-washed’ into believing that nothing is sacred; human life included. How could such a debased human be stopped and rehabilitated into believing that life must be revered and protected? This is the question.

National security seen as strong defences and formidable physical protection against external attacks proves effective in only the short term. In the long term, it is only humans who revere and protect life who would prove the strongest guarantee of enduring security at all levels. Bringing such a citizen into being is the biggest challenge facing states.

The state could greatly facilitate this task by ensuring fundamental rights in their entirety. The citizen who is assured of her rights would not harbour enmities against the world. Nor would she be vulnerable to ‘brain-washing’. Accordingly, the fundamental need is a self-assured citizen blessed with rights.

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