Book review: Niraja Gopal Jayal, Citizenship Imperilled: India’s Fragile Democracy

AuthorAhana Chakrabarti
Published date01 December 2022
Date01 December 2022
Subject MatterBook Reviews
Book Reviews 301
made the adjustment with the neoliberal development discourse which has an individualistic conception
of society and sadhus? How have the different constituents of the RSS and sadhus resolved their funda-
mental contradiction to evolve a common strategy to capture the collective consciousness of Indian
society as a whole? More focus on these questions in the book would have greatly benefited the students
of Hindutva politics.
The recent dramatic ascendance of Hindu Right in (India’s) national politics and in the states and the
developments that followed pose hard questions about the fundamental change that has fuelled the twists
and turns within Hindutva and asceticism. This book is a concise and useful guide for understanding
Hindutva politics in today’s ‘New India’. It successfully counters the clichéd understanding of the role
of sadhus in democratic politics in India and provokes its readers to look for a mechanism to decipher
constantly evolving Hindutva politics. It is a highly realistic assessment of the current political situation,
in which the VHP–RSS–BJP brand of politics has captured the nation’s imagination for longer than what
was expected by many political analysts and commentators. The book will be valuable for anyone
wishing to understand the current nature of politics in India.
Shashank Chaturvedi
Assistant Professor,
Institute of Law Nirma University,
Ahmedabad, Gujarat
Niraja Gopal Jayal, Citizenship Imperilled: India’s Fragile Democracy. India: Permanent Black. 2021. 260
pages. `795. ISBN: 9788178246451.
DOI: 10.1177/23210230221135821
With the backdrop of majoritarian nationalism threatening the founding pillars of democracy,
Niraja Gopal Jayal, through the lens of ‘citizenship’, makes a convincing argument about the impending
effects of the slow erosion of equality, liberty and fraternity in India. According to her, the repeated
assaults on the minorities—who are either subjected to state violence against them or social, economic
and political discrimination—have culminated in the understanding of what it is to be an Indian citizen.
When the idea of Indian citizenship is conflated with the idea of a ‘Hindu Rashtra’ (State) where only the
majority Hindus are capable of being citizens, the promise of equal citizenship granted to all in the pages
of the Constitution has weakened. Through the lens of citizenship, Jayal has argued that democratic citizen-
ship based on principles of equality and universality is the only avenue out of this constitutional
Jayal has previously written extensively on the journey citizenship has undertaken from ‘by [place of]
birth’ (jus soli) to ‘by descent’ (jus sanguinis). The debates on this transformation are rooted in the reli-
gious divisions that even after partition cast a shadow. More recently, the Citizenship (Amendment) Act
(CAA) of 2019 grants fast-track citizenship only to a few selected groups of pre-1947 India (Hindus,
Sikhs, Buddhists, Parsis and Christians) from three Muslim majority countries (Afghanistan, Pakistan
and Bangladesh) and that reconfirms citizenship’s journey towards a faith-based conception. Besides the
conflicts over the formal legal status (who can or cannot be citizens), Jayal makes an important contribu-
tion by analysing other forms of contestations, over rights and identities. She argues that even though

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