From accusing the BJP-led government of violating the basic structure of the Constitution and Articles related to right to equality and prohibition of discrimination on grounds of religion and race, to charging it with indulging in divisive and vote-bank politics and stoking fear in the minds of Muslims, the Opposition on Monday waged a spirited attack against the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill but could not stop its passage in Lok Sabha, where the ruling NDA has a huge majority.
While the Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS) joined the Opposition ranks to oppose the Bill, its support will not be enough to prevent its passage in Rajya Sabha, as the numbers are stacked in favour of the government. With the BJD, AIADMK and YSRCP backing the Bill, and former BJP ally Shiv Sena not openly opposing it, the ruling alliance is set to cross the halfway mark in the 240-member House, where five seats are vacant.
The over seven-hour debate in Lok Sabha on Monday got off to a stormy start with Opposition members objecting to introduction of the Bill on the ground that it violates the Constitution and discriminates against a section of people on the basis of their religion. When Home Minister Amit Shah responded to their charges, they made frequent interruptions. Countering them, Shah said they would “have to listen (to him) too”, adding that “this government has been voted for five years”.
Congress president Sonia Gandhi appeared set to lead a walkout but before party members could make a move, Speaker Om Birla called a division of votes. With 293 voting in favour of introducing the Bill and 82 against, the stage was set for a high-voltage debate.
The Opposition repeatedly invoked Mahatma Gandhi, Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, Swami Vivekananda and B R Ambedkar to argue that the government’s move goes against their ideals. They said the move was divisive, against the secular ethos of India and the tenets of the Constitution, and guided by the BJP’s political agenda of creating a “Hindu rashtra”.
Almost all the Opposition members asked why Myanmar, Sri Lanka, Nepal and Maldives were not included in the list of countries along with Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan. Many said the Bill would be struck down by the Supreme Court.
“The ruling side knows why this legislation is being brought, we also know why they have come up with this legislation, the people also know… I just want to warn the government that itihaas ki aankhon ne wo falak bhi dekhe hain, lamhon ne galti ki aur sadiyon ne saza payi hain… (History has been witness to episodes where eons had to pay for a momentary mistake…) Today, you are going to commit a big mistake,” said Congress’s Manish Tewari.
“We are opposing the Bill because it is discriminatory in nature. It wreaks havoc on the very foundations of the Constitution. This is a step towards Hindu rashtra… whatever be the colour of the cow, the milk is white. Whatever be the religion, the essence is humanity. India should maintain the essence of humanism,” said Congress’s floor leader in Lok Sabha, Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury.
“If this Bill passes… it will mark the victory of Muhammad Ali Jinnah’s thinking over that of Mahatma Gandhi… You cannot say you reject Pakistan while advocating the same logic as Pakistan… Today you are violating Article 14 of the Constitution by singling out one community and refusing to grant them asylum from oppression. We have already had a partition of the Indian soil… this Bill is marking a partition of the Indian soul,” said his party colleague Shashi Tharoor.
Hyderabad MP Asaduddin Owaisi (AIMIM) tore a copy of the Bill after accusing the government of “hating” Muslims, “discriminating against” them and conspiring to make them “stateless”.
“There is a need to look at CAB through the NRC lens. Of the 19 lakh left out of NRC in Assam, 5.40 lakh are Bengali Hindus; after the CAB comes, proceedings against them will be abated. So, proceedings will continue against only the remaining Muslims. This is violative of Article 14, it is a conspiracy of this government to make Muslims stateless. Why this hatred and discrimination,” he said.
“NRC is a lollipop and CAB is a bigger lollipop... this Bill is anti-India, anti-Bengali. It will rip apart the soul of Bengal, because it attempts to discriminate between people who have the same culture, speak the same language,” said Trinamool Congress MP Abhishek Banerjee. “You can demonetise Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 notes, but you cannot demonetise citizens of this country, you cannot demonetise the soul of Bengal,” he said.
NCP’s Supriya Sule said the perception is that every Muslim is feeling insecure. “If the second largest community is feeling insecure, then this government needs to introspect… Do not make anybody stateless in your own country. People are feeling insecure… It is our moral duty to stand by every community, caste and creed… The entire ethos of democracy is equality… It (the Bill) will be struck down in the Supreme Court,” she said.
Sule asked whether the government had brought the Bill because the NRC exercise had failed in Assam. She also asked why the government had left out Nepal, Maldives and Sri Lanka.
Nama Nageswara Rao (TRS) said his party was opposed to the proposed law as it does not include Muslims. DMK’s Dayanidhi Maran said the Bill went against the spirit of India’s age-old ethos of ‘Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam’ (the world is one family). “You are pre-occupied with Pakistan, with Bangladesh, but you fail to realise that you are not the Home Minister only for the northern part of India.
You are the Home Minister for the entire country… We have Sri Lanka…Maldives… They are also our neighbours… We have given citizenship or are in the process of giving citizenship to nearly 1,082 people, and majority are from Pakistan. Thirteen people from Sri Lanka have applied for citizenship or have been given citizenship. You are not taking any note of that in your Bill,” he said.
“You are scaring them, you are forcing the Muslim youth… the fear has come into them that this government is against the Muslims… your Bill is also saying the same. When you say you support the minorities, the minorities don’t believe you,” said Maran.