Need to Differentiate Between Intruders, Refugees, Says Amit Shah as LS Passes Citizenship Bill
The Lok Sabha late on Monday cleared the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill after a long and fiery debate in which several members of the Opposition parties labelled it as “anti-constitutional”. The vote was passed by 311 ayes and 80 no’s.
The legislation is likely to be tabled in the Rajya Sabha on Wednesday.
The Bill is not in violation of constitutional provisions, Union Home Minister Amit Shah said responding to a debate on the contentious legislation in the Lok Sabha. It will give relief to people living a painful life after facing persecution in neighbouring countries, he said.
Had India not been divided along religious lines, there would have been no need to bring in such a legislation, said Shah, targeting the opposition Congress. The Bill is not violative of Article 14 of the Constitution as it aims to give citizenship to persecuted people, he added.
Earlier in the day, the contentious Bill was introduced in the Lower House after a heated debate followed by a division of votes, with Shah saying the legislation has the endorsement of India’s 130 crore nationals.
Opposition leaders Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury (Congress), Saugata Roy (Trinamool Congress), NK Premachandran (Revolutionary Socialist Party), Gaurav Gogoi (Congress), Shashi Tharoor (Congress) and Asaduddin Owaisi (AIMIM) opposed the introduction of the Bill, which seeks to give citizenship to non-Muslims from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan escaping religious persecution there, saying it violated various provisions of the Constitution, including the move to grant citizenship on the basis of religion.
While defending its introduction, Shah said the Congress had “divided” the country on the basis of religion, making it necessary to bring the bill. H added that it was brought on the basis of reasonable classifications provided under the Constitution.
The tabling of the emotive Bill came even as there were protests and incidents of violence in the northeastern states, with most of the student unions and regional political parties opposing it, saying it will nullify the provisions of the Assam Accord of 1985, which fixed March 24, 1971, as the cut-off date for deportation of all illegal immigrants irrespective of religion.
Rejecting suggestions that the Bill is anti-Muslim, Shah said the measure has the endorsement of 130 crore citizens of the country as it was part of the BJP manifesto in 2014 as well as 2019 Lok Sabha elections.
“We will have to differentiate between intruders and refugees. The Citizenship Amendment Bill does not discriminate against anyone and does not snatch anyone’s rights,” Shah said, initiating the debate on the Bill.
Trying to allay apprehensions of people of the Northeast, Shah said the Narendra Modi government is committed to protect the customs and culture of people of the region and informed that Manipur will be brought under the Inner Line Permit (ILP) regime, where the proposed law will not be applicable.
Shah said under the proposed legislation, citizenship will be granted to refugees coming from the three countries after facing religious persecution there even without documents, including ration cards.
Noting that India has given similar rights to people in the past, Shah said Manmohan Singh and LK Advani could become prime minister and deputy prime minister respectively due to this after coming from present day Pakistan.
“This bill is not even 0.001% against Muslims. It is against infiltrators,” he said.
During the debate marked by heated arguments, Owaisi tore the Bill, saying it was aimed at making Muslims “stateless” and will lead to another partition.
According to CAB provisions, members of Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Jain, Parsi and Christian communities coming from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan, till December 31 2014, and facing religious persecution there, will not be treated as illegal immigrants but given Indian citizenship.
Opposing the Bill, Congress MP Manish Tewari said it is “unconstitutional” and “contrary to the spirit of the Constitution which is secular”.
“Equals cannot be treated as unequal. When a person comes to India, he is a refugee. You cannot discriminate against him on the basis of religion,” he said during the debate. “The bill is against the Constitution, against the spirit of Constitution and against the ideology propounded by Babasaheb Ambedkar.”
Discrimination on the basis of religion, he said, was not in tune with the Preamble of the Constitution which specifically mentions the word ‘secularism’.
Supporting the Bill, BJP MP Rajender Agarwal said the country cannot ignore the suffering of the people who have come here after facing religious persecution.
While NDA allies Janata Dal (United) and Lok Janshakti Party (LJP) supported the Bill, fence-sitters, including the Biju Janata Dal (BJD) and the YSR Congress also extended support while suggesting that Muslims should also be included in the Bill.
Meanwhile, West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee said CAB and the National Register of Citizens (NRC) will never be allowed in West Bengal as long as the TMC is in power.
“It’s a divisive bill and shall be opposed at any cost,” she said in Kharagpur while claiming that at least 30 people have committed suicide in the state due to panic over the implementation of NRC.
Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury, Leader of the Congress in Lok Sabha, said the government was trying to create the impression that by opposing the legislation, the party was anti-Hindu.
“We are opposing the Bill because it is discriminatory in nature. It wreaks havoc on the very foundations of the Constitution. This is a step towards Hindu ‘rashtra’. India should maintain the essence of humanity,” he said.
Nationalist Congress Party’s Surpriya Sule said the perception is that every Muslim is feeling insecure and the second-largest minority community should not be felt left out.
Referring to DMK MP K Kanimozhi, Sula also asked, “What happens to those who practise atheism?”
As per the Bill, “On and from the date of commencement of the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, 2019, any proceeding pending against a person under this section in respect of illegal migration or citizenship shall stand abated on conferment of citizenship to him.”
“Provided that such person shall not be disqualified for making application for citizenship under this section on the ground that the proceeding pending against him and the central government or authority specified by it in this behalf shall not reject his application on that ground if he is otherwise found qualified for grant of citizenship under section.”
The BJP-led NDA government had introduced the bill in its previous tenure and got the Lok Sabha’s approval. But it did not introduce it in the Rajya Sabha, apparently due to vehement protests in the Northeast and a lack of majority in the House.
That bill lapsed following the dissolution of the last Lok Sabha.