Senior Congress leader Shashi Tharoor Sunday said the passage of the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill in Parliament would mark the victory of Pakistan founder Muhammad Ali Jinnah’s ideology over that of Mahatma Gandhi, which will reduce India to a “Hindutva version of Pakistan”.
The Bill that seeks to grant citizenship to non-Muslim refugees from Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Afghanistan was cleared by the Union Cabinet Wednesday. The Bill, which had lapsed in the previous term of the Modi government due to massive protests in Rajya Sabha, will be tabled in Lok Sabha on Monday by Union Minister Amit Shah.
In an interview with news agency PTI, Tharoor accused the BJP-led NDA of singling out “one community” and refusing to grant asylum to those facing similar religious persecution like other communities.
“It is a shameless performance by a government which as recently as last year, refused to entertain any discussion on developing a National Asylum policy, which I had proposed in a Private Members Bill and shared personally with the then home minister, his Minister of States and his home secretary,” Tharoor said.
Despite floating the Bill, the government does not even want to take the basic steps as required under international law to improve the determination of refugee status or ensure decent treatment of refugees, he added.
“All of this makes it abundantly clear that this is merely a cynical political exercise to further single out and disenfranchise an entire community in India and in doing so, a betrayal of all that was good and noble about our civilization. It will reduce us to a Hindutva version of Pakistan,” Tharoor asserted.
Tharoor opined that religion cannot be the basis of citizenship and by making it a part of the Bill, the BJP has paved the way for Jinnah’s idea of a nation — where religion would be intrinsic to nationhood — to take root in India. “The passage of this Bill will mark the definitive victory of Jinnah’s thinking over Mahatma Gandhi’s. How ironic that it should be the stridently chauvinistic BJP that ensures the final vindication of Mohammad Ali Jinnah,” the Congress leader said.
“Mahatma Gandhi, (Jawaharlal) Nehru, Maulana (Abul Kalam) Azad, Dr Ambedkar believed the opposite, that religion had nothing to do with nationhood. Theirs was the idea of India and they created a free country for all people of all religions, regions, castes and languages,” Tharoor said.
Tharoor said the Bill not only singles out the Muslims but also goes against the historic legacy that Hindus were proud to lay claim to. “Swami Vivekananda had famously told the World Parliament of Religions in Chicago in 1893 that he was proud to speak for a land that has always offered refuge to the persecuted of all nations and faiths,” he said.
“We lived up to Vivekananda’s values in giving shelter to Tibetan refugees, the Bahai community, Sri Lankan Tamils, and 10 million Bangladeshis – the largest refugee exodus in human history – without ever asking about their religion,” he added.
Tharoor, however, said the Bill will again face stiff resistance in the Rajya Sabha, which has sizeable opposition numbers, and even if it makes it through, no bench of the Supreme Court will allow such a “blatant violation” of the fundamental tenets of India’s Constitution to go unchecked.
“The BJP may be able to bulldoze the legislation through the Lok Sabha but in the Rajya Sabha they are likely to face a sterner test since they don’t enjoy the same absolute majority there,” he said, adding that he is confident that the Opposition will come together and offer the strongest possible resistance in both Houses.
Speaking of his party’s stand on the Bill, Tharoor said, “Though I am not an official spokesperson for the party, I do believe that all of us in the Congress are clear that the Citizenship Amendment Bill is not just an affront to the basic tenets of equality and religious non-discrimination that have been enshrined in Article 14 and 15 of our Constitution, but an all-out assault on the very idea of India.”
He also claimed that the Congress is in favour of offering shelter and even citizenship to oppressed minorities from neighbouring countries.
Asked about a National Register of Citizens (NRC) nationwide as proposed by Home Minister Amit Shah, Tharoor claimed there is tremendous opposition to the idea because in practice it will cause enormous social upheaval.
“I have already personally received hundreds of messages and emails from many, even Bengali Hindus who have been in Assam for generations, who are worried that they could soon be the target of hate crimes should the bill be cleared,” he said.
The Congress had first proposed an NRC in Assam to fulfil the terms of the Assam Accord, but now both the Congress and the BJP have found it a deeply flawed exercise, he said.
“Can you imagine the same flaws replicated on a national scale? If the government carries out an all India NRC, millions of people born and raised here, who know no other home, will get excluded as many won’t be able to ‘prove’ their citizenship,” Tharoor said.