The Lok Sabha on Tuesday passed the contentious Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2019, that seeks to provide citizenship to non-Muslims from Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan.
Home Minister Rajnath Singh, who introduced the Bill in the Lok Sabha, said the six communities — Hindus, Jains, Christians, Sikhs, Buddhists and Parsis from Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan — faced “discrimination and religious persecution” and they “have no place to go, except India.”
The Congress said many States opposed the Bill and it should be sent to a select committee. As the government did not heed the demand, its MPs walked out.
Quoting former Prime Minister Jawaharal Nehru as being in favour of giving shelter to persecuted minorities in the neighbouring countries, Mr. Singh said, “Although Indian leaders signed pacts with leaders of Pakistan and Bangladesh for protection of minorities, unfortunately it had not happened.” “Even former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, while speaking as Leader of the Opposition in the Rajya Sabha, had asked the then BJP-led government to be more liberal in dealing with the issue of persecuted minorities in Bangladesh,” Mr. Singh said. The Bill seeks to grant citizenship to members of the six communities who have come to India till December 31, 2014.
It also reduces the mandatory requirement of 12 years stay in India to seven years to be eligible for citizenship if they do not possess any document.
Seeking to allay concerns of an influx in Assam, Mr. Singh said, “Assam alone should not have to bear the entire burden. The beneficiaries of Citizenship Amendment Bill can reside in any State of the country. The burden of those persecuted migrants will be shared by the whole country,” he said.
There has been a strong resistance to the Bill in BJP-ruled Assam and other northeastern States who fear it would pave the way for granting citizenship mostly to illegal Hindu migrants from Bangladesh, who came after March 1971, in violation of the 1985 Assam Accord.
Nearly 40 lakh people were excluded from the final draft of the National Register of Citizens (NRC) in Assam that was published on July 30 last year. The new Bill seeks to negate the NRC (a process that is the fallout of the Assam Accord), as it would grant citizenship to all Hindus who came to Assam from Bangladesh even after the NRC cut off date of March 1971.
“The proposed amendment will make these persecuted migrants eligible to apply for citizenship. Citizenship will be given to them only after due scrutiny and recommendation of district authorities and the State Government,” Mr. Singh said.
To become a law, the Bill will have to be cleared by the Rajya Sabha on Wednesday, the last day of its current session. The Bill was originally introduced in 2016 and later sent to a Joint Parliamentary Committee (JPC). The Committee submitted its report on Monday after which the Bill was redrafted and presented in the Lok Sabha on Tuesday.
The Congress said many States have opposed the Bill and it should be sent to a select committee. As the government did not heed to the demand, party MPs staged a walkout.
Trinamool Congress (TMC) lawmaker Saugata Roy said the Bill was “divisive and insidious that goes against the basic tenents of the Constitution.”
“This is the worst form of vote-bank politics,” Mr. Roy said.
Opposing the Bill, Asaduddin Owaisi of AIMIM said, “You are giving citizenship on the basis of the religion. You can’t run India like Israel. This government is making a mistake and will have to pay for it.”
CPI-M MP Mohammad Salim said, “If the country is being divided on the basis of language and religion, it will only tear the country apart. You want to victimise the Bengali Muslim.”
Rejecting the Bill, Badruddin Ajmal of AIDUF asked, “You may have the majority to pass the Bill. Have you delivered the basic facilities to all Indians that you want to grant citizenship to foreign nationals?”
Jay Prakash Narayan Yadav of RJD said also opposed the Bill.