Home Minister Amit Shah on Wednesday moved the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill in the Rajya Sabha and sought to assuage the concerns of Indian Muslims by saying they have nothing to fear as they are and will remain citizens of India.
No one will harass members of the community, the minister stressed as he moved the bill that provides Indian citizenship to Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis, and Christians who illegally migrated to India from Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan. Shah said the proposed legislation will give persecuted minorities of the three neighbouring nations the right to education, jobs and livelihood.
Several MPs of opposition parties moved motions to send the bill, which was passed by the Lok Sabha on Monday, to the select committee of the Upper House for detailed consideration before it is passed. The bill and the opposition motion will be put to vote after a debate on it.
“Muslims have nothing to fear,” Shah said. "Confusion, misinformation is being spread that this bill is specifically against the Muslim community. For the Muslims of this country, there is no question of debate or concern. They are citizens (of India), will remain citizens and no one will harass them.”
The government, however, does not want to give citizenship to illegal Muslim migrants from other countries. “Do you want that Muslims who have come from Pakistan should be made citizens? Muslims who have come from Bangladesh should be made citizens? Muslims who have come from Afganistan should be made citizens? Should we give citizenship to Muslims coming from all over the world? How can we run the country like this?” he asked.
Describing the proposed legislation as a historic bill, Shah said it will rekindle a new ray of hope among lakhs and crores of people who were harassed in neighbouring countries. “They can now follow their religion with respect, they can protect the dignity of their women.”
The Home Minister said minorities in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Bangladesh are not treated equally and their population has declined by 20 per cent as “they were either killed, or forced to convert or migrated to India". “They took refuge (in India) but were barred from availing basic facilities like homes, jobs, healthcare and education,” he said.
Shah said the BJP had clearly indicated its intent to bring such legislation in its election manifesto for the 2019 general election and the people of the country voted for it overwhelmingly. “It is not vote bank politics. We told the people before the elections and won the people’s mandate and approval,” he said.
According to the provisions of the bill, non-Muslim migrants from the three countries who came to India till 2014 will get Indian citizenship. “They will not face any legal consequences,” Shah said, adding that cases against them for their illegal stay or for overstaying their legal permit will be withdrawn. The bill will also regularise livelihood means such as shops of these illegal migrants, he said.
Rajya Sabha TV briefly stopped the live telecast of proceedings from the Upper House when opposition members heckled Shah over his claims of protecting Assamese interests. This was done on Chairman M Venkaiah Naidu’s instructions.
“I want to assure all the original residents of Assam that this BJP government will ensure that all your rights are protected. There should not be even an iota of doubt on this,” Shah said. The bill, which prevents Muslim migrants from neighbouring countries from receiving citizenship, has sparked protests and fear around the country.
The citizenship law goes hand in hand with a contentious programme that began in Assam this year -- all 3.3 crore residents of the state had to prove, with documentary evidence, that they or their ancestors were Indian citizens. About 20 lakh people were left off the state’s citizenship rolls after that exercise.
Congress leader Anand Sharma said the bill failed the Constitution. He said that it violated Article 14 (that provides equality before law) and Article 15 (that says there can be no discrimination on the basis of religion).
JP Nadda said that the bill had nothing to do with the right to equality. He said that no Indian was being denied their rights. You should come with me to Kutch, Indore or Bangladesh border, if you will see the plight of Hindu refugees prosecuted in Pakistan, you will immediately give your consent to the bill, he said. He said that there was documented evidence to show that the population of Pakistan's minorities have gone down significantly.
TMC's Derek O'Brien said that the bill was anti-Bengali, anti-Indian and added that the bill was unconstitutional. He said that the government is good at making promises, but it even better than breaking promises. He said that the bill the Government wants to separate genuine Indian citizens from their homeland. Derek O'Brien ends his speech by saying 'Jai Hind'.
AIADMK's SR Balasubramoniyan said that his party supports the bill, even thought it was concerned that Sri Lankan refugees are not included in it.
Opposing the bill, RJD's Manoj Kumar Jha said, "The bill is morally bad and constitutionally bad. If it's morally bad and constitutionally bad, then it shouldn't be implemented."
Registering his opposition to the Citizenship Amendment Bill in Rajya Sabha, Congress MP Kapil Sibal said, "This bill gives legal colour to the two-nation theory!" He asked how the government will distinguish between one illegal immigrant and another illegal immigrant. He said that the bill was targeting a community without naming it. "It is exclusive and divisive, weakens our culture and ethos," he said.
BJP's Subramanian Swamy accused the Opposition was confused between the CAB and NRC. He said that the Article 11 of the Constitution gave the Indian Parliament the powers to make changes to rights of citizenship.
He said that a fairly large number of people are running from Pakistan. "Not only Hindus, others like Christians and Parsis are leaving Pakistan," he said. Great deal of genocidal activities against minorities in these nations, he said. He added that the these groups are being singled out in these nations. He also said that the government was finally acting on something that was a long recognised problem.
Talking about the Sri Lankan refugees in India, Swamy said that the Tamil people who came to India escaped war and not religious persecution.
Earlier, Prime Minister Narendra Modi accused the opposition of speaking Pakistan’s language on the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill. While addressing the BJP parliamentary party meeting, Modi said the bill is as “historic”.
People who fled religious persecution have long lived a life of “uncertainty” in India and will get “permanent relief” once the proposed law comes into effect, the Prime Minister said.
In a tweet, Congress leader Rahul Gandhi said that the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill was an attempt by the “Modi-Shah government” to ethnically cleanse the Northeast and a “criminal attack” on the region.
Northeast protected under the Bill: Rijiju
The entire northeast has been given protection under the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, the government’s most prominent face from the region, Union minister Kiren Rijiju, said amidst protests across the northeastern states against the contentious bill that was tabled in the Rajya Sabha on Wednesday.
Speaking at an event here, Rijiju said for the first time in the history of India, the people of the northeast were consulted over such an important bill.
“The concerns of the indigenous people of the northeast have been addressed thoroughly in the bill. I know that protests are going on in the northeast, there are concerns, but those have been addressed by the government. The entire northeast has complete protection under the Citizenship Bill and we do not want the region to fall into the trap of some mis-campaigning,” he said, when asked to comment on the bill.
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