In contrast to the previous Lok Sabha when the Opposition forced a Joint Parliamentary Committee on Citizenship (Amendment) Bill with almost every Opposition party submitting a dissent note, the support for the controversial legislation to be introduced by the current BJP-led government seems to be growing.
On Wednesday, when the Union Cabinet cleared the introduction of the CAB in this Winter Session, there were indications that many parties earlier critical of the Bill were changing tack.
According to BJP sources, 122 members in the Rajya Sabha are already supporting the CAB and the party is expecting more parties to join them. The current strength of the Upper House is 238. In its previous term, the government could not push the Bill through in the Rajya Sabha due to lack of numbers.
The shift is best explained in the case of Janata Dal (United) or JD (U), an ally which walked out of the house when the Bill was passed in the Lok Sabha. In fact, JD (U) led a campaign opposing the legislation – a party delegation visited the Northeastern region earlier this year to meet the protesting civil society bodies and promised it would vote against the Bill.
On Wednesday, a senior JD(U) leader said the party’s stance had changed following discussions with some like-minded parties from the northeast which too have decided to support the Bill.
BJD’s Bhartruhari Mahtab had written a dissent note when the BJP’s Rajendra Agrawal-led Joint Parliamentary Committee finalised its report recommending the introduction proposed legislation in its original form. In the note, he had said the Bill”contravenes” the provision in the Assam accord which considered those coming to India after March 25, 1971 as intruders. He had also said the discontent among locals in densely-populated Assam could be accentuated with the Bill.
Sources said the BJD was now ready to back the new Bill since it exempted tribal areas in the northeast region.
The loudest and most vociferous opposition had come from the Trinamool Congress with two of its representatives Saugato Roy and Derek O’Brien submitting dissent notes to the joint parliamentary committee. The party had also moved amendments to “secularise” the Bill by adding six minority communities and six neighbouring countries instead of three.
On Wednesday, the Trinamool Congress was silent on its stand with some reports suggesting it could shed its objections to the new Bill.
The Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, which aims to provide citizenship to non-Muslim refugees from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan, has been slammed by several Opposition parties as communal and divisive with the Congress threatening to knock at the doors of the Supreme Court to challenge it.
The Bill approved by the cabinet Wednesday gave exemption to the Inner Line Permit (ILP) regime areas and those governed under the Sixth Schedule of the Constitution. In a meeting with a delegation from the northeast on Saturday, Union Home Minister Amit Shah assured them that the states in the region would be given some exemptions. Shah has had interactions with different groups from the region, one even early Wednesday.
Extending his party’s support to the Bill, YSRCP’s Vijaysai Reddy said, “There is nothing wrong with helping those who are persecuted in the neighbouring countries. Its protective discrimination.” Asked about the discrimination on the basis of religion, Reddy said, “This is about persecuted minorities which we can’t oppose.”
Shiromani Akali Dal and LJP, two allies of the BJP in NDA, are expected to extend their support. AAP, AIADMK and TRS which backed the government in crucial bills in the last session have not announced their position on the re-drafted bill.
The Shiv Sena, a party that fully supported the CAB, has shifted its status from the ruling coalition to the opposition. But its stand on the controversial Bill remains the same. “We have always supported the concept. On this Bill, we will see the provisions and take a decision. But on the issues linked to national security and nationalism, we will take a positive stand,” Shiv Sena’s Vinayak Raut told The Indian Express. Asked about the new status, Raut said, “We will not compromise on issues linked to the nation.”
The Congress party which has been protesting against the Bill said on Wednesday it would study the Bill and take a decision. “We will have to see in what form and manner the Citizenship Bill is brought, then we will decide on our stand. We get to know from the media the changes they are bringing. But we will have to see the Bill and see what changes have been made,” Congress leader in the Lok Sabha Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury said at a press conference.
Chowdhury was one of the Congress members who sent a dissent note pointing out that the provisions in the original Bill violate the right to equality guaranteed under Article 14 as it provides differential treatment to illegal immigrants on the basis of religion. His party colleagues Sushmita Dev, Bhubaneswar Kalita (who has now joined the BJP) and Pradeep Bhattacharya also gave dissent notes.
The CPI-M’s Mohd Salim had dissented earlier, and the party continues to oppose it. “It is simple. Citizenship cannot be determined by or linked to religion. This is what makes the Citizenship Amendment Bill unacceptable and unconstitutional. The CAB is aimed at destroying the basis of India. India’s citizens are its citizens, irrespective of what faith they follow or don’t, what they eat, what work they do, their caste, creed, place of residence, gender or colour of skin. No to Citizenship Amendment Bill,” CPI-M general secretary Sitaram Yechury tweeted.
While SP’s Javed Ali Khan had also expressed his dissent in the report, the stand taken by his party now is not known. So is the stand of the BSP, which was in alliance with the SP for the 2017 Uttar Pradesh election in which the alliance lost.