FROM accusing the BJP government of trying to “advance its Hindutva agenda” to copying from the Nazi playbook to target Muslims and demolishing the Constitution, the Opposition Wednesday raised moral, Constitutional and historical questions to oppose the contentious Citizenship (Amendment) Bill in Rajya Sabha. And warned the government that the legislation would be struck down in court.
Unlike in the recent past, the Opposition remained united until the end. In August, many parties including the AAP and Telangana Rashtra Samithi had broken ranks when the Rajya Sabha debated scrapping the special status to Jammu and Kashmir under Article 370. But this time they opposed the Bill as did the BSP which, too, had supported the Government on Article 370 and had stayed away on the triple talaq Bill in July.
The Shiv Sena, which had supported the Bill in Lok Sabha changed its stance and its three members walked out before voting. Given its hard Hindutva background, the party could not have opposed the Bill and its tactical walkout ensured that it does not ruffle the feathers of its new found allies NCP and the Congress in Maharashtra. “We are certainly happy that the Shiv Sena did not vote in favour of the Bill. They did not vote for the Bill. That is good,” senior Congress leader P Chidambaram said.
The nearly eight-hour fiery debate saw the Opposition opposing the controversial Bill on several grounds. The Congress, which led the charge, focused largely on Constitutional aspects. The Trinamool Congress focused more on West Bengal linking CAB with the NRC while the DMK had the exclusion of Sri Lankan Tamils in mind.
But there was one common thread – almost all the opposition members accused the Government of playing divisive politics.
They attacked the Government for confining the ambit of the Bill to people belonging to six religions – Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Jain, Parsi, Christian – leaving out Muslims and to refugees from three countries – Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh, excluding neighbours like Sri Lanka, Bhutan and Myanmar. They argued the Ahmadiyyas, Shias and Hazaras also face persecution. The Left alleged the Government’s real agenda was installation of a “fascistic Hindu rashtra”
The Congress fielded its frontline leaders Leader of the Opposition Ghulam Nabi Azad, P Chidambaram, Anand Sharma and Kapil Sibal to take on the Government. Chidambaram called the Bill “insidious” and argued that it was patently unconstitutional. Sharma argued that the Bill was “divisive and discriminatory” and “fails the morality test” hurting the “soul of India.” Sharma said though the Bill was part of BJP’s 2019 election manifesto, the party’s manifesto cannot over-ride the principles of the Constitution.
“What we are doing today is wrecking the Constitution from within. A small part of the Constitution is sought to be wrecked and demolished by this insidious bill. Fortunately, we have three organs of the state…the executive is complicit, the legislature is being invited to collaborate, hopefully the judiciary will strike it down and will save India and the idea of India,” he said.
Azad accused the Government of bringing such contentious bills every now and then to divert the attention of the people. He alleged that the government has no data on persecuted minorities in neighbouring countries.
“Sri Lanka, Bhutan, Myanmar and Nepal are all our neigbouring countries. Are the minority Hindus in Sri Lanka not facing the problem? Why the Sri Lanka Hindus are not included? Aren’t the Christians of Bhutan facing problems. Why were they not included? Indian origin Muslims in Myanmar…are they not facing problem…Neither the country nor the religion was included…And to say that people of one specific religion are persecuted in these three countries….The kind of persecution which the Muslim women of Afghanistan underwent was unprecedented. They were killed for not wearing burqa…” Azad said.
He said the Government was merely trying to divert attention of the people. “Mr Home Minister…you came up with demonetisation like this, then brought GST, triple talaq, 370, NRC and now citizenship.. you just want to divert attention of the people from joblessness, issues of farmers, price rise…every four to six months…you bring such bills to mislead the people,” Azad said.
Former union minister Kapil Sibal asked the Home Minister to explain how the proposed law chooses to allow persecuted minorities when the Bill does not mention the phrase “persecuted minorities” anywhere. “Where is the provision for persecution? How will you prove he was persecuted unless he says so?”
“Has any illegal immigrant who has ever come to India said he was persecuted? Which Hindu has said he was persecuted? You know what they’ve said in their legacy papers? That they are residents of India. You are forcing them by law to lie that they were persecuted,” Sibal said.
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Trinamool Congress’s Derek O Brien drew a parallel between NRC detention camps to Nazi concentration camps, the NRC to Nazi Germany’s Madagascar Plan to deport Jews and the Citizenship Amendment Bill to the 1935 German law protecting those with Aryan lineage with an ancestor pass.
“In the German Copybook they referred to a very interesting word ‘Jews’ as ‘rats’. And, as someone said, once powerful politicians start using dehumanising language, what happens after that…termites. What are we talking about today – termites, cockroaches, vermin. These words are not used by any party worker but these words are being used by the Prime Minister and sometimes by the Home Minister,” O’Brien said.
Referring to Shah’s statement in Lok Sabha that the BJP has the mandate, DMK’s Tiruchi Siva said “Yes, you have a mandate. But that mandate is to justify all the citizens of this country, not to segregate one portion, and feel them agonised, pained, anguished, and victimized…I would like to quote Arignar Anna, ‘Carry on, but remember, you have to hold the reins of your speeding horse, or else, it would upset the applecart,’” he said.
Samajwadi Party’s Javed Ai Khan said the “Home minister repeatedly conflates NRC and CAB, especially in West Bengal when in my opinion it should be a different discussion…because this is a realisation of Mohd Ali Jinnah’s dream, not of the founding fathers of India. People say secularism was brought into the Indian Constitution in 1976, secularism was always there.” He then quoted Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel in the Constituent Assembly as saying the foundations are being laid of a secular democracy.
“The home minister says this has nothing to do with Indian Muslims. How? Aren’t we citizens of India, don’t we have a stake? Are we second-class citizens…this is actually a very old agenda,” he added and read out excerpts of a 1939 book of M S Golwalkar talking about how people outside the Hindu fold should either enter it or forsake their role in national life.
Said K K Ragesh of the CPM: “The minister says it is for persecuted minorities of neighbouring countries…if that is the case what happens to Rohingya Muslims who were persecuted in Myanmar…and Ahmadiyya Muslims and Shias discriminated in Pakistan…Tamils discriminated in Sri Lanka…These arguments are ridiculous…The real agenda is a fascistic Hindu rashtra.”
BSP member Satish Chandra Mishra wondered whether the law would pass legal scrutiny. K Keshava Rao of the TRS said the Bill challenged the very idea of India and it negated every idea of justice. “We oppose this bill because it is marginalising Muslims, because it is anti-Muslim,” Rao said. He added: “A sense of apprehension has cropped into millions of Muslims in our country. Where will they go? They have also been persecuted.”
NCP’s Praful Patel said the Government has brought the Bill in a hurry and it could be challenged in court.