The divisive Citizenship (Amendment) Bill

Updated on: Dec 06, 2021

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The Centre should focus on the economy and address issues of real concern, rather than stoke latent fires

There is something disturbing about the alacrity with which the ruling BJP has aligned its ranks in Parliament to push through a legislation that questions the fundamental premise of whether religion should be a determinant of citizenship in India. In the weekly meeting of the BJP’s parliamentary party on Tuesday, Defence Minister Rajnath Singh directed all party MPs to be present in Parliament when the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill is discussed. Within 24 hours on Wednesday, the Union Cabinet cleared the draft Bill that replaces the lapsed legislation that had been cleared in January, this year. Home Minister Amit Shah has simultaneously promised to start work on a countrywide National Register of Citizens (NRC). Given the unmitigated disaster that was NRC in Assam, it would be fair to conclude that the only rationale for a preoccupation with divisive issues is the political dividends accrued out of them. At this rate, Parliament is less likely to focus on issues that have caused real concern — a slowdown in Q2 GDP growth to 4.5 per cent, with critical economic indicators pointing downwards.

The basic premise of the proposed amendments runs against the idea of who is a citizen in a liberal democracy, which is vastly different from a citizen in an oligarchy or theocratic state. The most critical part of the draft law pertains to inserting a provision in Section 2 of the Citizenship Act, 1952 to change the definition of “illegal immigrant” to include persons belonging to Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Jain, Parsi and Christian communities from Afghanistan, Pakistan and Bangladesh. Although the Parliamentary committee disregarded the view that the proposed amendments are violative of fundamental rights, it is unlikely that they will stand judicial scrutiny. Indeed, if the aim was not political and the Government had merely wanted to help the refugees, the term “all minorities facing religious persecution”, as suggested by some Constitutional experts to the Parliamentary committee, would have served the purpose. Secondly, the amendments in the last Bill that were passed by the Lok Sabha were in violation of the Assam Accord of August 15, 1985. The proposal to legalise minority migrants who entered Assam till December 31, 2014, as opposed to the earlier cut-off date of March 25, 1971, arrived at through the Assam Accord was obviously aimed at assuaging the concerns of the BJP’s Bengali Hindu voters who have been left out of the NRC in Assam. The fresh draft of the Bill reportedly addresses the concerns of the North Eastern States by maintaining status quo on the delicate Constitutional and legal balance struck to accommodate the indigenous communities’ autonomy through measures such as Inner Line Permit and the areas under the Sixth Schedule.

The Centre’s priorities are misplaced. The time has come to address issues of real concern, and not stoke latent fires.

Published on December 04, 2019
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