Updated: December 26, 2019 9:20:55 am
The historic Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) has come into effect across the country following a gazette notification on December 12. This moment signifies the continuous struggle of many visionary leaders and freedom fighters. With the CAA, a long-pending demand for relief to persecuted religious minorities has been met.
Recalling two incidents from history will be useful to understand the importance of the CAA.
Following the 1971 Indo-Pak war, Rajasthan faced an influx of around one lakh refugees comprising people from the Sodha Rajput, Meghwal, Bheel, Charan, Maheshwari and Sindhi communities. The Simla Agreement signed by the then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi and President of Pakistan, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, sought to bring about the withdrawal of troops and exchange of prisoners of war. Atal Bihari Vajpayee rushed to Shimla during the five-day summit and pleaded with Indira Gandhi to take a tough stand and insisted that “sacrifices made by the jawans should not be surrendered at the negotiation table”.
The Bharatiya Jana Sangh led by Vajpayee opposed the return of refugees to Pakistan on the Simla Agreement’s terms and took out a march to Indian occupied territories of Pakistan in Gadra city in July 1972. During Vajpayee’s stay at Gadra Road, Barmer, which was the focal point of the agitation, thousands of refugees joined hands with him. Atalji, along with the volunteers, walked five to six kms from Gadra Road in India to territory India had occupied in Pakistan and assured the persecuted minorities and Dalits a dignified life in India. He stayed in the House of Kojhraj Maheshwari, visited the refugees’ camp and assured the refugees that they will be allowed to stay in India. Tarun Rai Kaga, a former MLA from the Chohtan constituency in Rajasthan was one such Dalit who had came to the Gadra Road camp in 1972 from Chachro township in Tharparkar district, Pakistan. The NDA-I government of Vajpayee conferred special rights to district collectors in Rajasthan and Gujarat to decide on citizenship requests made by Hindu and Sikhs refugees.
Best of Express Premium
The tale of the erstwhile Mohata Palace (now Jinnah House) in Karachi reveals the various shades of the hostile attitude of Pakistan’s leadership towards religious minorities. Shiv Ratan Mohata, a successful Marwari entrepreneur from Bikaner, had built the palatial house in the seaside neighbourhood of Clifton in Karachi for his wife. At the peak of World War II, leaders preferred to visit London via Karachi for meetings related to Independence and Partition. The founder of Pakistan, Muhammad Ali Jinnah, used to stay at Mohata Palace during these visits. During one such occasion, Jinnah told Shiv Ratan Mohata that he will have to vacate the magnificent building after Partition. Mohata’s numerous requests that he be allowed to retain his palace were refused by Jinnah.
Shiv Ratan Mohata spoke about his exchange with Jinnah to his brother Ram Gopal Mohata, a very simple, affluent and spiritual personality of Bikaner. He told Shiv Ratan that, “if the king cannot take care of people of his region, we should not live there” and suggested that he leave Pakistan immediately.
After Independence, Shiv Ratan Mohata settled in Mumbai and his Mohata Palace became the Jinnah House of Karachi. After Jinnah’s demise in September 1948, the palace was handed over to Fatima Jinnah. In the 1950s, Shiv Ratan Mohata wished to have Jinnah House in Mumbai for Mohata Palace under the government’s provisions for exchange of immovable properties. He got the then chief minister of Bombay state, B G Kher, to recommend his case to Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru. But his efforts were unsuccessful since Jinnah had told Nehru not to give his property to anyone.
The historic occasion of the CAA brings a sigh of relief and smile to every person who was affected by Partition — from affluent business families like the Mohatas of Bikaner to Dalits like Tarun Rai Kaga and lakhs of other unnamed individuals.
From time to time, various political parties, including the Congress, have voiced the cause of persecuted religious minorities. On November 15, 1950, while replying to the discussion on the motion of thanks to the President’s address in the provisional Parliament, Prime Minister Nehru, referring to Syama Prasad Mookerjee’s statement said: “I am perfectly prepared to agree with him (Mookerjee) that the situation of the displaced persons is very far from desirable”, and added that “there is no doubt, of course, that people who have come to India, those displaced persons who stay in India, are bound to have citizenship. If the law is inadequate, the law should be changed”.
During a discussion on the Citizenship Amendment Bill in the Rajya Sabha on December 18, 2003, the then Leader of Opposition, Manmohan Singh, demanded a liberal approach towards religiously persecuted refugees. Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot, in his previous tenure, wrote to the then Union Home Minister P Chidambaram on the plight of Pakistani Hindus and Sikh migrants. Assam Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi had submitted a memorandum to the then Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh, on April 20, 2012, pleading that Indian citizens who had to flee due to persecution and discrimination on religious ground at the time of Partition should not be treated as foreigners. Even Prakash Karat, the then CPM general secretary, had written to Manmohan Singh in May 2012 regarding the citizenship problems of Bengali refugees. When the Modi government showed the courage to address this daunting issue, the Opposition parties are trying mislead the people.
The CAA is about inclusion and not exclusion. It has nothing to do with Indian Muslims. The Act is not meant to take away anyone’s citizenship, but it will confer citizenship on persecuted minorities. The Act will ease the lives of Partition refugees and provide them a dignified life by allowing them access to the government’s welfare schemes.
This article first appeared in the print edition on December 26, 2019 under the title “Refugee to citizen”. The writer represents Bikaner in the Lok Sabha and is Union Minister of State for Heavy Industries, Public Enterprises and Parliamentary Affairs.
📣 Join our Telegram channel (The Indian Express) for the latest news and updates