A protest against the Citizenship Amendment Bill, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam, December 11 (Photo: Getty Images)
In 2005, a 55-page article titled “Globalized Citizenship: Sovereignty, Security and Soul” authored by Professor Berta E. Hernández-Truyol was published by the University of Florida Levin College of Law. In the article, Prof. Hernández-Truyol narrated in some detail, with endorsement, the creation of limits over time on the sovereignty of states in general and in particular in relation to matters of citizenship. In the Introduction to the article, the Professor posited that “a globalized citizenship grounded on a human rights model will strengthen personhood by denationalizing states’ claims on individuals’ rights”.
To this end, she argued that “for the human rights model to be of utility to the globalized citizen project, it must be reconstituted with an anti-subordination agenda.” She asserted that the project “must include the voices of the marginalized-both persons outside Western cultures and subordinated persons within Western cultures-all women; racial, ethnic, religious, cultural and sexual minorities; the poor; and the differently-abled.” The stated object of this project was, of course, “a new vision of human rights” which “refocuses the discourse and creates a globalized citizenship movement from below that embraces and empowers those currently in the periphery.”
To achieve the said goal, the Professor proposed moving “toward a new conceptualization of limits on sovereignty: a proposed globalized citizenship model that draws from traditional citizenship theory, uses the human rights structure as its foundation and places limits on the power of entities, including states and transnational and multinational organizations, associations or groups, to act if the consequence is a violation of human rights norms.” According to her, what separated her conceptualization from the previous conceptualizations of the limits of sovereignty was that its “affirmation emanates from the individual him/ herself (and others similarly situated around the globe) who has suffered as a consequence of a breach of norms regardless of whether the norm violator is a state actor.”
Would it be a stretch to draw parallels between the position and language of Prof. Hernández-Truyol, and the “arguments”, tone and language employed by a significant cross-section of critics and opponents of the CAA, the NPR and the NRC (let’s call it “the CNN”)? Perhaps not. If anything, it could be argued that the critics and opponents of the CNN have drawn heavily from or are inspired by the script elaborated by Prof. Hernández-Truyol in her article. This could also indicate a handshake, albeit inconclusive and perhaps inadvertent, between global advocates of global citizenship and its sympathizers in India. However, experience shows that rarely are such handshakes coincidental, and usually the script of the relevant stakeholders in India on such issues follows the global template (which is distinctly Left of Centre) with necessary customizations to suit Indian tastes and issues.
This is perhaps why it would be naïve to assume that everyone who opposes the CNN is necessarily doing so to defend Constitutional values. While some may genuinely, however erroneously, feel that the CAA violates Article 14 of the Constitution; it may not be unreasonable to assume that their misplaced sense of Constitutional righteousness and sanctimony are, in fact, being pressed into service by and at the behest of those who wish to further the cause of globalized citizenship. The all-important and fair question that then arises is whose cause is being advanced by the proponents of the globalized citizenship? Everyone who believes in the continued relevance and indispensability of sovereign states, albeit in a multipolar and interconnected world order, has the right and duty to ask this question. This is because such movements have displayed a marked tendency to interfere with the internal affairs of sovereign states, using human rights as a politically correct conduit and it is never clear if the voices which represent such movements are independent free actors or not-so-independent non-state agents.
If the claims of Global Citizenship (GC) as a movement were to be accepted on face value and it is assumed that its goals are truly what it claims to be, even then it is a Loki-esque recipe for chaos because it expects sovereign states, be they nation states like European countries or civilization states like India or China, to sacrifice the lifeblood of nationhood, namely citizenship, at the altar of this Utopian and quixotic pipedream. The primary premise and modus of GC appears to be to paint the very idea of sovereign states as fundamentally Orwellian which stands in the way of the genuine needs, aspirations and human rights of marginalized groups and displaced communities. Consequently, to expedite the process of the withering away of sovereign states, what is proposed by Prof. Hernández-Truyol as the alternative, is further abridgement of the sovereignty of states through the use of a modified human rights framework. Under this framework, the validity of the actions of a sovereign state is examined solely through the prism of a non-citizen who believes that she or he is entitled to the citizenship of the state becauses he or he is an alleged victim of breach of human rights norms by third parties who may or may not be state actors.
While this proposed victim-driven framework is riddled with grave dialectical loopholes the size of black holes and merits a detailed dissection to expose its flaws, fallacies and dangers, its manifest impracticality becomes evident when it is applied in the context of the CAA. Admittedly, members of the six persecuted religious minority communities from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan who are the beneficiaries of the CAA 2019 are bound to benefit from such a framework. However, it is equally evident and even obvious that the framework is capable of being exploited by anyone, regardless of whether they are victims since the framework neither proposes effective safeguards to verify claims of victimhood nor offers conceptual or definitional clarity as to what qualifies as victimhood. In fact, the framework would play into the hands of someone who seeks citizenship of a state only because that state has better economic opportunities to offer. What is even worse is that such a framework could conceivably aid inimical foreign interests by providing them with a human rights alibi to not just legally enter the state they wish to undermine, but also become its citizens and subsequently foment and fuel “local” and “indigenous” demands of “self-determination”.
This is precisely what makes the GC model impractical and dangerous since it is capable of being subverted by specific vested interests. A hyper-conservative skeptic might go so far as to say that the GC model has been designed to advance specific vested interests, which include foreign policy objectives of state actors and goals of powerful non-state actors, by lending it the benign and unobjectionable face of human rights of the stateless, the destitute, the marginalized and the persecuted. While one may not subscribe to such degree of cynical scepticism, it is not beyond the pale of reasonableness to contend that the GC movement could unwittingly find itself being employed by less noble and altruistic interests, which appears to be the case with CAA protests as the dust gradually settles and the facts begin to emerge. Critically, apart from state sovereignty, the very legitimacy of human rights and the reasonable expectations of persecuted and displaced groups and individuals could suffer as a consequence of them being used as cannon fodder to further subterranean agendas. Clearly, the GC movement, in whichever avatar it manifests itself in whichever territory, by whatever name it is called, is certainly not a credible alternative to the considered, calibrated and collective decision-making processes of sovereign states.
The antidote to the selfishness and intransigence of sovereign states is not to undermine their sovereignty through sophistry, but to offer feasible incentives for transparent cooperation and burden-sharing instead of threatening their very existence which could only exacerbate the intransigence. At the same time, it is imperative to take into account the legitimate reservations of sovereign states in bestowing citizenship on foreigners in a laissez-faire manner. After all, the concept of citizenship affects the very identities of nation states as well as civilization states, which should not be pejoratively dismissed as “ethnonationalism”.
It is important to appreciate that, in the interest of self-preservation; every nation has its own history which it has a right and duty to learn from. No sovereign state needs to be apologetic about this nor should it be guilt-tripped for doing so citing violation of human rights or secularism or worse, labelling them fascist. A state’s foremost duty is to protect itself and its people, and this duty permeates even its decision to grant citizenship to illegal migrants-turned-refugees or to grant refugee status to illegal migrants. History provides a state with the strongest possible Constitutional, factual and logical justification for the manner in which it chooses to exercise its discretion, particularly in sensitive matters such as grant of citizenship to foreigners. And no test of reasonableness or canon of equality under Article 14 of the Indian Constitution precludes the state from drawing from history. If anything, the Constitution as a document must be alive to history, since it is a product of history.
J Sai Deepak is an engineer-turned-lawyer practising as an arguing counsel before the Supreme Court of India and the High Court of Delhi. He is the author of India that is Bharat: Coloniality, Civilisation, Constitution