After a heated debate, Rajya Sabha clears Citizenship (Amendment) Bill

No provision to ‘snatch’ citizenship, says Home Minister Amit Shah; AIADMK, Janata Dal (U) and BJD play a key role in helping push bill through.

Updated - December 04, 2021 11:52 pm IST

Published - December 11, 2019 09:13 pm IST - New Delhi

Home Minister Amit Shah speaks during the debate on the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill 2019 in the Rajya Sabha on December 11, 2019. Photo: RSTV/PTI

Home Minister Amit Shah speaks during the debate on the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill 2019 in the Rajya Sabha on December 11, 2019. Photo: RSTV/PTI

The Rajya Sabha on Wednesday passed the contentious Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2019 , with 125 votes in favour and 99 against. The Bill for the first time allows citizenship on the basis of religion to six communities from Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh. The current strength of the Upper House is 240.

The Bill amends the Citizenship Act, 1955, and for the first time, will grant citizenship on the basis of religion to non-Muslim communities from Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan, who entered India on or before December 31, 2014. It was passed by the Lok Sabha on Monday.

The debate saw fiery exchanges, with Opposition members accusing the government of violating the provisions of the Constitution. The Opposition also added that the legislation could be challenged on legal grounds. Several members also flagged the violent protests against the Bill in Assam and Tripura.

Replying to the debate, Union Home Minister Amit Shah said, “The Bill has no provision to snatch citizenship from anyone but to grant citizenship to the refugees. There is no need for Indian Muslims to live in fear. India has given respect to its Muslim population. This Bill does not discriminate against them. India will never be Muslim mukt  (free).” 

He said Muslims need not worry. However, he added, “...If you expect that Muslims from all over the world would be accommodated here, then you are mistaken. This country will not function like this.” 

He said he was mindful of the concerns of people in the Northeast, and all the (Hindu Bengalis) refugees from the then East Pakistan (now Bangladesh) who came to West Bengal will be given citizenship.

The votes of the AIADMK, the Janata Dal (United) and the Biju Janata Dal were key in helping the BJP-led government push the Bill through in the Upper House. Members of former BJP ally Shiv Sena participated in the debate but did not vote. 

Two MPs of the Nationalist Congress Party and the Bahujan Samaj Party were absent.

Claims on numbers

Mr. Shah said “lakhs and crores” of people would benefit from the Bill. However, he did not explain how he had arrived at the numbers. 

Derek O’Brien of the Trinamool Congress mentioned that the Director of the Intelligence Bureau had said in a report that around 31,000 people would be the immediate beneficiaries.

Read:  What is the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2016?

Leader of the Opposition Ghulam Nabi Azad said the government did not have authentic records on the number of persecuted people from the three countries. “While the Home Minister has been counting crores and lakhs of far only 4,400 people have cited religious persecution as grounds to get citizenship,” Mr. Azad said.

The Congress’s Kapil Sibal asked how the government would differentiate between illegal migrants and those persecuted on religious grounds. 

He said the government was forcing people to lie that they had come from Bangladesh as they always claimed they are Indians.

To this, Mr. Shah said, “If you ask someone if they are illegal, they will say ‘No’. But we will tell them that you will be granted citizenship from the date you entered.”

“Had they disclosed earlier they would have been arrested, lost jobs, marriages would have broken. Earlier they couldn’t declare they are illegal; can’t you (Opposition) hear their pain,” the Home Minister said. 

Strongly opposing the Bill, DMK MP Tiruchi Siva asked the government why only one religion had been excluded for according citizenship to illegal immigrants from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan. Participating in the debate in the Rajya Sabha, he said the Bill was polarising and that the government was targeting only one religion.

Mr. Shah said the statements given by Congress MPs were similar to that of Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan, leading to sharp retort from the party. Mr. Shah said any Muslim could apply for citizenship through the usual channels and in the past five years, 566 persons from Pakistan were granted citizenship.

He said anyone could move a legal challenge to the Bill but he was confident that it will pass the test of law.

He asked Congress to stop fooling the minorities adding that during Congress regime more than 13,000 Hindus and Sikhs from Pakistan became Indian citizens.

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