Wrong messaging: On the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, 2019  

The underpinning of religion in the implementation of CAA is problematic 

March 14, 2024 12:20 am | Updated 09:53 am IST

The government’s decision to implement the Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA), 2019, just days before the dates for the general election are expected to be announced seems to be a precursor to the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) exploiting a polarising issue in the poll campaign. A law strongly opposed by many, especially by the Muslim community, for introducing a religion-based test for grant of citizenship to immigrants from three chosen countries, the CAA is under legal challenge before the Supreme Court of India. Enacted in 2019, it was not implemented until now as the government did not notify the rules to operationalise its provisions. The timing of the rules being notified raises a legitimate doubt if it is an attempt to divert attention away from the electoral bonds controversy. The rules were unveiled at a time when the nation was questioning the delay in the submission of details about the purchasers of anonymous electoral bonds and the parties that redeemed them. The circumstances make one question the urgent need to implement a law that has not been acted upon for five years. The new rules also appear carefully crafted, designed as they are to introduce processes that will leave no scope for States to impede its implementation. It is possible that the rules were ready for a long time, and the CAA issue is being revived for electoral gains.

The essence of the CAA, in reality, may not affect the interests of minority citizens: after all, it is only a fast-tracking mechanism for minorities — Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis and Christians — from Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan to gain citizenship. Instead of the usual 11 years (out of the preceding 14 years), the waiting period for this class of immigrants will only be five years, provided they had arrived before December 31, 2014. Further, there is nothing in it that removes anyone’s citizenship. The problem with the CAA is two-fold: first, in its discriminatory norm that specifies some religious communities as eligible for citizenship. All those from these six religions in these three countries are presumed to have fled persecution. Others who do not fall into this category, either due to their entering the country after the cut-off date, or because of their religion, will continue to be treated as illegal migrants. The second aspect is the unfortunate political propaganda that sought to link the CAA with the National Register of Citizens. This rhetoric accentuated the fears of Muslims that the CAA may lead to loss of citizenship without adequate documentary proof. More than its content, the CAA is causing harm through its use for the Narendra Modi regime’s political messaging to the effect that all its policies will have an underpinning of religion.

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