January 8Amid walk-outs and allegations against the ruling BJP of hatching a “sinister plot” to divide the country on communal lines, the Lok Sabha on Tuesday passed the contentious Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2019, which seeks to provide Indian citizenship to non-Muslims from Bangaldesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Piloting the Bill, Home Minister Rajnath Singh told the Opposition that the Bill was not against the provisions of the Constitution and would provide relief to persecuted minorities in the three neighbouring countries.

The Bill provides Indian citizenship to the Hindus, Jains, Christians, Sikhs, Buddhists and Parsis from Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan after six years of residence in India, instead of 12 years currently, even if they do not possess any document. “They have no place to go, except India,” he said, adding several that leaders, including first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru were in favour of giving shelter to persecuted minorities from the neighbouring countries.

Opposition objects Bill

Raising objections, the Congress said many States have opposed the Bill and it should be sent to a select committee. As the government did not heed to the demand, the Congress staged a walkout.

TMC’s Saugata Roy dubbed the Bill as “divisive” and “insidious” and said it goes against the basic tenets of the Constitution. “This is the worst form of vote-bank politics”, Roy said.

The Bill was also opposed by PR Kunhalikutty (IUML), Jayprakash Narayan Yadav (RJD) and Asaduddin Owaisi (AIMIM), who contended that it was against the Constitution. Bhartruhari Mahtab (BJD), Arvind Sawant (Shiv Sena) Mohammad Salim (CPI-M) and Badruddin Ajmal (AIDUF) also spoke.

The Minister, however, rejected the contention that the Bill sought to discriminate people on the basis of religion. Singh said: “Anyone eligible under the provisions of the law will be accorded citizenship”. Seeking to assuage the concerns in the North-East, which saw an 11-hour bandh on Tuesday against the legislation, Singh said the proposed law will not be confined to Assam.

Sharing burden

“The burden of those persecuted migrants will be shared by the whole country. Assam alone should not bear the burden. Government of India is committed to help the State government and people of Assam,” he said.

The Asom Gana Parishad (AGP), a partner in the BJP-led Assam government, broke up with the saffron party while the NDA allies — the Shiv Sena and the Janata Dal (United) — opposed the legislation.

Mizoram and Meghalaya governments have opposed the Bill by adopting resolution against it in their respective Cabinet meetings.

The Home Minister said the Union Cabinet has also approved grant of Scheduled Tribes status to six communities of Assam namely Tai Ahom, Koch Rajbongshi, Chutia, Tea Tribes, Moran and Matak.

According to the Home Minister: “Full safeguards will be provided to protect the interests, rights and privileges of existing STs of Assam. A separate Bill will be brought to grant ST status to Bodo Kacharis living in the Hill districts of Assam and Karbis in the plains. Sixth Schedule of the Constitution is also proposed to be amended to strengthen the Autonomous District Councils.”