The Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2019 was passed by the Rajya Sabha Wednesday, with 125 votes in favour and 105 against, after a six-and-a-half-hour long debate even as the Opposition tore into the government, calling the legislation “unconstitutional” and “divisive”.
The Bill, which was cleared by the Lok Sabha with a 311-80 margin on Monday midnight, seeks to provide Indian citizenship to non-Muslims who entered the country from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan until December 31, 2014.
Besides BJP, its allies JD(U) and SAD, the legislation was supported by AIADMK, BJD, TDP and YSR-Congress. Shiv Sena, which had supported the legislation in the Lower House, staged a walkout during the voting process. The House also rejected several amendments moved by Opposition members to the bill, most by voice vote.
Union Home Minister Amit Shah, who tabled the Bill in the Upper House, said it would not affect the Muslims already residing in the country. “Misinformation has been spread that this Bill is against Muslims of India. They are Indian citizens and will always remain, there is no discrimination against the Muslims residing in India,” said Shah. He further said it was not possible to give citizenship to Muslims fleeing from Islamic countries.
Terming the Bill “historic”, Shah said the legislation was initiated before the Lok Sabha elections and people voted for the NDA government knowing that CAB would be implemented.
“There has been an almost 20 per cent decline each in the population of religious minorities in both Pakistan and present-day Bangladesh. Either they were killed or they fled to India for shelter,” said Shah.
Opposition calls CAB against the ‘idea of India’
The Opposition, on the other hand, called the Bill an attempt to change the secular fabric of Indian democracy and to divide the country on religious lines. While many leaders pointed out the exclusion of Muslims from the persecuted minorities list, others questioned the cost of accommodating the extra population that would come through the citizenship exercise.
Senior Congress leader P Chidambaram said the Central government was ramming through the contentious Bill to “advance its Hindutva agenda”.
Calling the Bill “insidious”, Chidambaram said, “We have a Citizenship Act in this country. It recognises citizenship by birth, descent, registration, naturalisation and by incorporation of territory. Now, this government is introducing a new category called Citizenship by arbitrary executive fiat.”
The former home minister also pointed out that the Bill violated Article 14 of the Constitution on three grounds —unequal treatment, illegal classification and arbitrariness writ large. Stating that the Bill would ultimately be taken up in the court, Chidambaram expressed confidence that “this law will be struck down”.
On Amit Shah’s remark that Congress was responsible for a religion-based Partition of the country, senior Congress leader Kapil Sibal said, “I don’t understand which history books the home minister has read. The two-nation theory is not our theory. It was perpetrated by Savarkar. Even BR Ambedkar said that instead of being against each other, Jinnah and Savarkar were in agreement that there were two different nations based on religion.”
RJD’s Manoj Kumar Jha called the Bill “unintelligent and unreasonable”. “During JPC, it was suggested by experts that the word religion should be dropped from the bill and persecuted minority should be used in its place. It was set aside for no reason,” he said.
CPI(M)’s KK Ragesh said, “The Home Minister was saying the Bill is for persecuted minorities in neighbouring countries. Why do they not cover Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar, Tamils in Sri Lanka and Ahmedis in Pakistan? The government wants to hide its insidious agenda of Hindu Rashtra by dividing this society in the name of religion.”
Giving the example of Afghanistan, senior Congress leader Ghulam Nabi Azad said Muslims too face persecution in the mentioned countries in the legislation. Azad also took a jibe at Shah, saying the government does not have any authentic data on such people and was befooling the public.
Amit Shah: Rectifying historic wrong…this Bill due to Partition
Replying to the points put forward by the Opposition, Amit Shah said the Bill was aimed at rectifying the historic wrong committed during Partition.
On why persecuted minorities from countries such as Sri Lanka were not part of the legislation, Shah said Tamils from the island country had been given Indian citizenship in past and the present law was to tackle a specific problem.
Amit Shah also said Muslims from other countries had the right to apply for Indian citizenship as per existing rules. As many as 566 Muslims have been given citizenship, he said.
On the Nehru-Liaquat pact, Shah said, “The spirit of Liaquat–Nehru Pact, was not followed by the neighbouring country. It is the duty of every government to follow it in letter and spirit.”
Addressing the issues put up by the North-East states, the Home Minister assured that the Bill would not change the demography of the states. Shah said CAB would have no bearing on Sikkim and the Central government would not interfere with Article 371F. For Assam, which saw violent protests resulting in the imposition of curfew in Guwahati, Shah said the government would do everything to protect the indigenous culture and languages of the region.
BJP celebrates passing of CAB, Cong calls it ‘Black Day’
Calling the passage of the Citizenship bill a dark day in the Constitutional history of India, Congress interim chief Sonia Gandhi said, “The passage of the CAB marks the victory of narrow-minded and bigoted forces over India’s pluralism. The Bill fundamentally challenges the idea of India.”
P Chidambaram called it a brazen assault on the fundamental ideas of the Indian Constitution. “No one in the government would take responsibility for the content of the CAB or its constitutionality. The intent of the Bill is to tell the Muslims “you are not equal human beings with equal rights”. The CAB is a brazen assault on the fundamental ideas enshrined in the Constitution. The fate of the law will be decided in the Supreme Court,” he said.
Meanwhile, Prime Minister Narendra Modi lauded the passage of the Bill, saying it would alleviate the suffering of many who faced persecution for years. Home Minister Amit Shah said the dreams of crores of deprived and victimised people had come true today.
Protests against the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill intensified Wednesday in Assam and Tripura, with the administration imposing a curfew in Guwahati till indefinite period. The administration also suspended mobile internet services in Assam’s ten districts as a precautionary measure — Lakhimpur, Dhemaji, Tinsukia, Dibrugarh, Charaideo, Sivasagar, Jorhat, Golaghat, Kamrup (Metro) and Kamrup. The services shall remain suspended from 7 pm Wednesday to 7 pm Thursday.
Also, PTI reported that the 5,000 paramilitary personnel have been airlifted to Northeastern states, including Assam, for the maintenance of law and order in wake protests over the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, which is being debated in Parliament.