In a historic move, Parliament has given its assent to the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2019, as it passed the Rajya Sabha test even as violent public protests broke out in the north-eastern states of Assam and Tripura over opposition to the bill. The controversial legislation, which has been fiercely resisted by opposition parties for being unconstitutional and discriminatory, will now need President Ram Nath Kovind’s assent for it to become law. The bill was approved by the Lok Sabha on Tuesday where the ruling National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government is in a majority.
The Rajya Sabha passed the Citizenship Amendment Bill 2019 (CAB) on Wednesday with 125 members voting for and 105 against the Bill. Earlier the demand for referring the Bill to the Select Committee was negated.
The members of Shiv Sena, the latest Congress ally, were absent at the time of voting. The Janata Dal (United) voted for the Bill.
The CAB paves the way for citizenship to lakhs of illegal immigrants living in various parts of the country, even if they lacked any document to prove their residency.
The cut-off date for being eligible for the Indian nationality is December 31, 2014, which means those applying for citizenship should have entered India on or before this date. The citizenship would be granted with retrospective effect.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi described the passage of the Bill as a landmark day for India and said that the Bill will alleviate the suffering of many who faced persecution for years.
“A landmark day for India and our nation’s ethos of compassion and brotherhood! Glad that the CAB 2019 has been passed in the Rajya Sabha. Gratitude to all the MPs who voted in favour of the Bill. This Bill will alleviate the suffering of many who faced persecution for years,” Modi said in a tweet.
His remarks came soon after the controversial CAB, 2019 that seeks to give Indian nationality to non-Muslim refugees from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan was passed in the Rajya Sabha though it was vehemently opposed by major opposition parties objecting its nature and describing it “against Muslim community”, which the government rejected saying it does not affect the community residing in the country.
Soon after the controversial Bil was passed, Congress interim Chief Sonia Gandhi described it as a “dark day” in the constitutional history of the country and said passage of the Bill marks the victory of “narrow-minded and bigoted forces” over India’s pluralism.
In a statement, Sonia Gandhi said, “Today marks a dark day in the constitutional history of India. The passage of the CAB marks the victory of narrow-minded and bigoted forces over India’s pluralism.”
Hitting out at the government, the Congress leader said that the Bill fundamentally challenges the idea of India that the forefathers fought for and, in its place, creates a “disturbed, distorted and divided India” where religion will become a determinant of nationhood.
She said the CAB is not just an affront to the eternal principles of equality and religious non-discrimination that have been enshrined in our Constitution but represents a rejection of an India that would be a free nation for all her people, irrespective of religion, region, caste, creed, language or ethnicity.
Sonia Gandhi further said that in its design, its grave implications, this flawed legislation is antithetical to the “spirit of the freedom movement and violative of the soul of our nation”.
She said, “Ours is a nation that has historically offered refuge and protection to the persecuted of all nations and of all faiths. We are a proud nation that has never been broken by the insecurity of a few, for we have always stood firm with the knowledge that free India can only remain free if her people are liberated if her voices are heard, and if our institutions, our governments and our political forces dedicate themselves to securing the inalienable rights of the citizens of this country.”
Sonia Gandhi also took a dig at the government over passing the Bill in the 150th birth anniversary year of Mahatma Gandhi.
“In this moment of anguish, I would like to reiterate the Congress Party’s determination to be relentless in our struggle against the BJP’s dangerously divisive and polarizing agenda,” she added.
With parts of Assam on the boil, Home Minister Amit Shah said in the Rajya Sabha that a panel under Clause 6 of the Assam Accord would address all the concerns of the local people related to their linguistic, cultural and social identity.
“I want to assure all the original residents of Assam through this House that the NDA government will attend to all their concerns. The Committee constituted under Clause 6 will address the concerns,” Shah said while introducing the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2019 in the Upper House.
In his introductory statement, Shah said that the committee under Clause 6 could not be constituted until the Narendra Modi government came to power.
“No one bothered or worried for 35 years,” the Minister said.
He said that when Assam Accord was signed by the then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi the movement in the state was stopped and people celebrated and burst crackers but the Committee was never formed.
“I want to put forward a bitter fact today. In 1985, the then Prime Minister Shri Rajiv Gandhi signed the Assam Accord. As per the Accord, a committee was to be set up to ensure the social, cultural and linguistic identity would be protected and preserved,” he noted lamenting non-action on the agreement.
The Minister said that the time had now come to find solutions to the problems of the Assamese people. He also urged the Committee constituted under Clause 6 to send their report to the central government.
While the Centre has brought Citizenship Amendment Bill to grant Indian nationality to the members of the Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Jain, Parsi and Christian communities who came to India from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan after they faced religious persecution in those countries but local Assamese people fears that the move would legalise Bangladeshi immigrants thus threatening their social and cultural identity.
The local Assamese people also fear job losses and other opportunities.
While introducing the bill, Shah termed the bill historic and said it offers a ray of hope and a new beginning to lakhs and crores of people who have been living a life of extreme hardship and misery for years. He also said that the bill fulfils the promise made by the BJP in its Election Manifesto.
The Home Minister said that the government was committed to protecting the concerns of all the North-Eastern states. He stressed that the provision of the bill will not apply to tribal areas of Assam, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Tripura and, now Manipur. This will also not apply to areas covered under Inner Line Permit in Mizoram, Arunachal Pradesh and most parts of Nagaland and Manipur.
Former Congress President Rahul Gandhi called it “an attempt by the Narendra Modi-Amit Shah government to “ethnically cleanse the Northeast”, calling it a “criminal attack” on the people.
“The CAB is an attempt by Modi-Shah govt to ethnically cleanse the North East. It is a criminal attack on the North East, their way of life and the idea of India. I stand in solidarity with the people of the North East and am at their service (sic.),” Gandhi tweeted. (IANS)