Union Home Minister Amit Shah has reiterated that the government would first amend the existing citizenship norms – by passing the Citizenship Amendment Bill – before it implements a nationwide National Register of Citizens (NRC). While speaking in Kolkata, Shah accused West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee of “misleading” the people.
“Mamata Banerjee is saying that lakhs of Hindu refugees will be thrown out of the country. I have come here to assure all my refugee brothers that there is no need to worry as the central government will not force them out,” Shah is reported to have said.
“I want to assure all Hindu, Sikh, Jain, Buddhist and Christian refugees that you will not be forced to leave India. Don’t believe rumours… Mamata Didi is saying there will be no NRC in Bengal. But we will identify each and every infiltrator and drive them out. When Mamata Banerjee was in the Opposition, she had demanded that such infiltrators be driven out… Now since those infiltrators have become her vote bank, she does not want them removed,” he said.
What is the Citizenship Amendment Bill?
According to PRS Legislative Research, the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2016 was introduced in Lok Sabha on July 19, 2016. It was referred to the Joint Parliamentary Committee on August 12, 2016, which submitted its report in January this year. The Bill amends the Citizenship Act of 1955, which lays down the norms regarding Indian citizenship, to make illegal migrants who are Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis and Christians from Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan, eligible for citizenship. Further, it relaxes one of the requirements for acquiring citizenship by natutralisation under the existing Act for persons belonging to the same six religions and three countries by only requiring them to have stayed in India for 6 (instead of 11) of the previous 14 years.
The essential point of debate in this proposed amendment was that it makes illegal migrants eligible for citizenship on the basis of religion – a move that may violate Article 14 of the Indian Constitution, which guarantees right to equality.
What is NRC?
Till date, Assam is the only state that has implemented the National Register of Citizens. The NRC defines all illegal immigrants, irrespective of religion, on the basis of a cutoff date – in Assam this was set to be March 24, 1971. As such, to claim citizenship, individuals had to prove that either they or their ancestors were Indian citizens before March 1971.
At the end of the exercise in which 3.11 crore people applied for citizenship verification, 19 lakh were excluded. However, the list of excluded individuals includes several Hindus as well.
What will happen if the Citizenship Amendment happens before a nationwide NRC?
If that happens, then all Hindus, Jains etc. migrants – essentially non-Muslim immigrants from neighbouring countries – who would have faced the risk of being excluded by the NRC would already be provided Indian citizenship. Thus, this sequencing will ensure that the government would be able to use the NRC to identify and deport, in the words of Amit Shah, “each and every infiltrator”.