Citizenship (Amendment) Bill (CAB) in House likely next week
New Delhi, November 30: The big question is – is CAB cherry-picking of people in distress? After dealing with the state of Jammu and Kashmir and Article 370 apparently to restore rights of Kashmiris, Home Minister Amit Shah and Prime Minister Narendra Modi now seem set to fulfil another election promise they have twice made in 2014 and again in 2019 – that of amending the Citizenship Act 1955.
Narendra Modi’s government worked on the Bill in its previous term and got it through the Lok Sabha but did not manage to get it though the upper house, the Rajya Sabha.
The Bill was passed in the Lok Sabha on 8 January 2019, after it was introduced by Home Minister Rajnath Singh. After the Lok Sabha’s term ended on 3 June 2019 having been dissolved for 2019 election, that bill stands now lapsed and the work has to start afresh.
And if all indications are accurate, the controversial Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, or CAB, is likely to be placed before Parliament soon, senior government officials aware of the development have said.
CAB is controversial as it looks like cherry-picking of people in distress and proposes to provide Indian citizenship to members of religious minorities except Muslims, from three Muslim-dominated countries – Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan.
Speaking on the condition of anonymity, some officials in the Home Ministry have said that the Union home minister Amit Shah is holding a series of meetings with chief ministers of North Eastern states and leaders of social and cultural bodies, students’ organisations and political parties starting on Friday on plans to amend the Citizenship Act.
CAB seeks to amend the Citizenship Act, 1955, in order to fast-track grant of Indian nationality to religious minorities – Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis and Christians — from Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan.
“This was an electoral promise made by the Bharatiya Janata Party in the 2014 and the 2019 Lok Sabha polls and they need to deliver on that”, says a friend of the BJP living in Melbourne.
CAB faces widespread opposition, especially in n the northeast. There have been protests in Tripura and even Arunachal Pradesh against the proposed bill.
In Mizoram CAB would make Buddhist Chakma refugees Indian citizens. In Assam the proposed amendment has raised concerns that it could nullify the 1985 Assam Accord. The Assam Accord had fixed the cut-off date for deportation of all illegal immigrants irrespective of religion as March 24, 1971.
The BJP and its affiliates believe that minorities, including a significant number of Hindus from the three countries, should be granted citizenship as refugees because of the persecution they face there.
Opposition parties like the Congress, Trinamool Congress and CPI (Marxist) oppose the bill saying that the Indian Constitution does not allow granting of citizenship on the basis of religion. Their argument is by making special provisions for citizenship on the grounds of religious persecution the Bill will introduce religion as a new principle into the citizenship law, indeed by stipulating and hard-coding Muslims out.
With the routing of the Congress at the hands of the BJP in the last two elections, the BJP is brimmjing with confidence and is set to cintinue moving forward to fulfill promises made the elections.
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Regardless, Amit Shah’s engagement with socio-cultural, student and political groups is taking place. Shah’s efforts are directed at understanding their objections to and apprehensions about the proposed amendment.
Shah is meeting the North East Students’ Organisation, the All Bodo Students’ Union and student bodies from Meghalaya, Nagaland and Arunachal Pradesh. He will also meet the Chief Ministers of North Eastern states to get their take on the issue.
Although the government is confident of steering the bill through both Houses, it has apprehensions of possible public protests in some of the North Eastern states and thus earlier this week the National Security Council Secretariat (NSCS) headed by National Security Advisor Ajit Doval took stock of the situation in the region.
Whatever the sentiment, CAB does look like cherry-picking people in distress driven by the Hindutva. The ideologues at the heart of it must be mindful that it is certain to give the critics ammunition that the country under Modi is turning into a nation of fanatics.