BJP general secretary and party in-charge for northeastern States Ram Madhav says the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2019, fulfils the party’s promise to undo the harm of Partition and give an opportunity to those in a stateless condition.
The passage of the Bill in Parliament has set off unrest in the northeast, especially Assam. Wasn’t there an anticipation of this reaction?
The Bill passed in the Rajya Sabha yesterday [Wednesday] is another historic commitment fulfilled by our government and party.
It will open doors for those waiting for many years in an almost stateless condition in our country for citizenship. It is unfortunate that some parties and groups are trying to mislead the public by portraying it wrongly. This Bill is for the entire country, it is not for excluding anybody. In the northeast, largely the situation is normal and peaceful. There was some issue in Tripura, which we have resolved through dialogue and negotiations. The tribal groups have met and discussed their issues with Chief Minister Biplab Kumar Deb, and announced yesterday that they are withdrawing the agitation.
The only State where there are some protests is Assam. Prime Minister [Narendra] Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah have both said this Bill is not against the interest of any State. We are reassuring again that the Government of India and Assam take the responsibility for protecting the State’s culture and language; we are committed to the implementation of the Assam Accord, especially Clause 6, which is all about providing constitutional and legal and other mechanisms for protection of the identity of Assam.
A major criticism of the Bill is that it specifically excludes Muslims.
The Bill is for empowering minorities, giving them an opportunity for claiming citizenship. This Bill is specific to minorities for a particular reason. During Partition, which was on the basis of religion, there was huge migration, both ways. We had taken care of citizenship issues in the first three years, but many more came over the years as the two countries, Pakistan and Bangladesh, became Islamic Republics. Many influxes continued over the years.
Today, those things have abated, at least from Bangladesh, but continue from Pakistan. Even now a large number of the Scheduled Caste people come over the border fearing persecution. It’s a clear case of religious persecution as a fallout of the religious partition of this country. We had accepted them in the immediate aftermath of Partition. We accepted them after the Bangladesh war. In the latter case, under the Indira-Mujib Accord, we accepted 1.5 million minorities who had migrated to India but denied them citizenship. So they lived here as our people but without citizenship. This Bill will provide an opportunity to these people to claim citizenship; we are not thrusting it on anybody nor denying it to anybody else.
But, as was pointed out in Parliament by the Opposition, Balochs, Hazaras, Ahmediyas are also groups that can be included under the rubric of the religiously persecuted.
Historically, India has been providing asylum to whoever has sought it. Post-Independence, Tibetans came, Sri Lankan Tamils came, all guided by our citizenship laws which says that if they want citizenship and have lived here for 12 years, they can apply. It’s called naturalisation and nobody is denying this to any community. This particular Bill is intended to address the Partition-related fallout, this number is huge.
What is the number?
Exact number is not known, but in the 1970s when the Indira-Mujib agreement happened, at that time itself the number was 1.5 million.
There is a charge against the government that the Bill has been brought solely as part of the BJP’s strategy in West Bengal, to create a Hindu vote bank of those who have come over from Bangladesh into West Bengal.
It is not proper to link this decision to elections. You know that polls are more than a year-and-a-half away. If that was our intention, then what was to stop us bringing this in the next year, closer to the polls. The whole objective was to fulfil our commitment, one which we have made to the people before the Lok Sabha election.
Bangladesh Foreign Minister A.K. Abdul Momin has cancelled his trip to Delhi and there seems to be much hurt feelings over the parliamentary debate over the Bill in Bangladesh and in Afghanistan. Has the government shot itself in the foot diplomatically?
Every effort will be made to ensure that there will be no adverse diplomatic fallout. This Bill is, as I said, in a way, a continuation of the efforts to sort out the unfinished fallout of Partition. For example in 1950, the then Union government had promulgated a Bill called the Expulsion of Illegal Immigrants from Assam Act. When the issue of migrants fleeing persecution across the border was brought to Pandit Nehru’s notice, at that time too, it was decided such people would be exempted from the purview of expulsion. I have already mentioned the Indira-Mujib Accord.
What we are doing is that those migrants who had come over into India, living here, would be given an opportunity to claim citizenship. We are not using any coercive stance against any other country. So no other country’s interests are in anyway affected by this Bill. It’s not going to be a prospective Bill. There is a cut-off date of December 31, 2014.
Home Minister Amit Shah has said a nationwide National Register of Citizens is coming. There is an apprehension that it will be used to strategically disenfranchise some communities.
That is a baseless fear. No country in the world allows non-citizens the rights of citizens, and has its own ways of determining citizenship. The last time such an exercise was undertaken in India was in 1951. Late Home Minister, CPI’s Indrajit Gupta who served in the Gujral government, had said in Parliament that there were 1.25 crore illegal residents, but we have never tried to identify them. So the exercise will be to repeat the 1951 exercise.