Exclusionary intent

Taking a cue from a pending case in the Supreme Court the BJP government is >all set to formalise a policy for granting citizenship to Hindu immigrants from Bangladesh while it will continue its battle to rid India of ‘infiltrators’ from that country. This reduction of a complex history of migration across India’s eastern border into this loaded formulation was articulated repeatedly by Prime Minister Narendra Modi during the run-up to the 2014 Lok Sabha election. In a speech made in Assam in February 2014, for instance, he said: “We have a responsibility towards Hindus harassed in other countries. Where will they go? We will have to accommodate them here.” In another speech made later the same month in West Bengal the target was a different type of immigrant. “Those who are taking away jobs here have to leave. The priority is jobs for the youth of this country. That is our first responsibility,” he said. More recently, BJP president Amit Shah has >made the granting of citizenship to Hindu immigrants, and the expulsion of illegals, a key poll promise as the BJP gears up for the Assam Assembly elections. These statements are underscored by a broader ideological position, as mentioned in the BJP election manifesto, that India should be the natural home for persecuted Hindus who could seek refuge here. This has overtones of exclusionary doctrines like the Law of Return in Israel that gives Jews the right to live and seek citizenship there.

During the NDA’s last stint in power an amendment to the Citizenship Act >was effected in 2003 that made it easier for Hindus who had come from Pakistan and were residing in Gujarat and Rajasthan to be given citizenship. Attempting something similar for eastern India, however, will prove more problematic. Since the Supreme Court case covers the period from 1971 the government will have to specify a time period during which it feels that Hindus and other minorities faced persecution in Bangladesh. Depending on which period is chosen this could complicate ties with Bangladesh as that would amount to casting aspersions on its ability to protect minorities. Given that this is a good moment in the confidence-building process between the two countries, with India just having >passed the Land Boundary Agreement, such a partisan move could rock the boat again. Rather than make these calculations it would have been infinitely better if India had a national policy on refugees or was a signatory to the 1951 refugee convention under which signatories are obliged not to send refugees back to where they have a well-founded fear of persecution. In the absence of a coherent policy such issues will continue to be decided in an ad hoc manner, driven by ideological-political considerations.

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Printable version | May 8, 2021 1:37:46 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/editorial/editorial-on-policy-for-granting-citizenship-to-hindu-immigrants-from-bangladesh/article7198470.ece

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