New Delhi: If India desires a role of civilized and legitimate leadership of South Asia, it has to do better than the Narendra Modi regime has done on the issue of Assam’s National Register of Citizens. Modi as usual has maintained a strategic silence on the controversial matter. He hasn’t spoken either on lynch mobs, the trolling of his foreign minister, and the regular hate speeches of his party and Lok Sabha representatives. His minions do the talking for him, one imagines. So Amit Shah was at his polarizing and vituperative worst in the Rajya Sabha, while Arun Jaitley spewed venom from his enforced isolation. Isolation, one would think, surfaces the soul. Is all this, per chance, a throwback to the early 1930s, and are we witnessing a rebirth of Adolf Hitler’s monster Nazism? The parallels are chilling.

The Modi regime never tires of saying that the NRC’s present provenance lay in a promise made by Rajiv Gandhi as prime minister to the agitating Assam students back in the 1980s. The promise was to update the 1951 NRC for Assam and the Manmohan Singh government initiated the process. Violence leading to deaths stymied the process and the Modi government recommenced it under the oversight of the Supreme Court. The second NRC draft list which is at the centre of the current storm notionally declares over four million as non-Assamese and non-Indians and this has provoked fear and outrage among those excluded and shock and disgust among parties opposed to the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party. Scenting an opportunity to play communal divide-and-rule politics, the BJP positioned itself against those excluded even though the results were provisional, and party functionaries further threatened to extend the exercise to West Bengal more with the aim to rile and unsettle its chief minister, Mamata Bannerjee, than as a constructive suggestion. And Mamata being Mamata, she has fallen into the BJP’s trap, making outlandish statements about civil war, and getting her party troopers to charge off to Assam almost as though she intends to put a forcible end to the updating process. All in all, this is not how civilized and constitutionally governed states and their elected officials conduct themselves.

The blame primarily lies with the Narendra Modi regime which decided to polarize the country on NRC II months before the general election. It also raised the Rohingya issue again when it gained a hint that its constituents were pleased with the NRC controversy. Apart from the dangers to the national fabric, what message does it send to India’s neighbours? Bangladesh, feeling targeted by Amit Shah & Co, quickly denied that its citizens were among the excluded, and pre-emptively refused to absorb anyone declared a non-citizen. That decision is a long way away. Thank god for the Supreme Court. The courts would have to be fully and finally satisfied that such-and-such is a non-citizen before whatever next steps are initiated. There is no guarantee that Bangladesh will accept the excluded but there is a greater chance of that if the determining process is transparent and just. The BJP’s pronouncement of guilt even before investigative and judicial processes are exhausted will not only divide the country on communal lines but also range India’s neighbours against India. If India cannot deliver justice to those living within its borders, citizens and non-citizens alike, how does it expect to be a beacon of hope and progress for the rest of South Asia? If the ruling party or its fringe supporters descend to murderous vigilantism against Muslims in Assam, Rajasthan and in other BJP-ruled states, how does it make them different from the Nazis? Hitler was fixated about Jews and settling Germans on conquered Russian lands. Hitler had zero vision for Germany. The Modi regime, for its part, looks at everything from the Hindu-Muslim prism. Nation-building, economic growth and reforms, job-creation, etc, are not its concerns. Narendra Modi’s idea of India cannot be a model for South Asia. If it is only slightly better than Pakistan, what’s the point?

The good part is that the momentary insanity generated by the NRC draft list shows signs of abating, with the Supreme Court forcefully intervening to put a stop to coercion while declaring that the citizenship updating process will continue. The ruling party and the opposition must withdraw from their extreme positions and keep the process above politics and electoral considerations. India must show the way to the world about dealing with citizenship issues in a decent and constitutional manner. India cannot be Burma or even Donald Trump’s America on its shared land border with Mexico. Humanism and national security are not mutually exclusive. India enjoys an exalted position as a vibrant, plural democracy in South Asia and is marked for greatness. Years from now, the general election of 2019 and its leading players will not matter at all. India will.