LS passes citizenship bill 311-80, at midnight
10 December 2019
The Lok Sabha passed the Citizenship Amendment Bill 2019, at midnight on Monday, with the backing of BJD, AIADMK, TDP and YSR-CP. The bill was passed with 311 MPs voting in favour and 80 opposing it.
The stage is now set for a clash in Rajya Sabha where the numbers are not so favourable to the ruling BJP. However, with the backing of BJD, AIADMK, TDP and YSR-CP, the bil may sail through the Upper House as well.
The passage of the bill was made easy by abstentions and support from the Shiv Sena, which left the NDA coalition to form government in Maharashtra with support from the Congress and the Nationalist Congress Party.
The Shiv Sena had set several conditions for supporting the bill’s introduction, but later relented to vote in favour.
Amidst vociferous protests by the opposition Congress party, home minister Amit Shah defended the bill by repeatedly drawing a distinction between refugees fleeing religious persecution and infiltrators even while asserting an all-India national register of citizens is on the anvil.
The CAB aims at ensuring Indian citizenship for Hindus, Buddhists, Sikhs, Jains, Parsis and Christians from Afghanistan, Pakistan and Bangladesh who have sought refuge in the country on grounds of religious persecution.
The bill also sets a cut-off date of 31 December 2014 for recognition of refugee status.
Division of voted sought by the opposition over amendments seeking removal of references to Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh and to make the legislation “religion-neutral” were defeated 304-94, 311-12 and 312-09.
Introducing the bill, home minister Amit Shah asserted that the legislation is not targeted any community or religion and that it would not affect the existing rights of any group or groups. He also read out inclusions intended to keep Nagaland, Mizoram and Meghalaya out of the bill’s purview. He added that Manipur will now be covered by the inner line permit system that imposes restrictions on non-locals.
He also said exceptions for minorities, such as minority-run institutions, had been carved out earlier and this was not seen as a violation of the Constitution. “This bill is not even .001 per cent against Muslims. It is against infiltrators,” he added.
During the course of his speech, the home minister cited specific instances of what he called persecution - killings and rapes, forcible conversions and places of destruction of worship - of non-Muslims in the Islamic countries of Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan.
The minister defended the CAB’s provisions for non-Muslims, reminding Congress leader Shashi Tharoor of the basis on which those who came to India after Partition were given citizenship. “The division of country was on basis of religion, that was the reason for citizenship (to refugees) then,” he said, adding that Muslims could not have been brought under the ambit of the legislation because they are not minorities in the three Islamic countries.
He expressed the government’s determination to bring an all India NRC, saying that this will be done smoothly.
Shah pointed out that the Muslim population of India had increased while Hindus in Pakistan and Bangladesh had declined while they were vulnerable to rape and assaults with no safety of their rights. He also made it clear populations like Rohingya would not be covered by bills like CAB. “There will be no politics of protection...offering ration cards, documents.”
He also said Article 371, which offers measures for the northeast is not comparable to Article 370. “There no separate constitution or flag under Article 371. I assure the northeast that Article 371 will not be touched,” he said.
Countering the opposition, Shah said the view that the right to equality before law under Article 14 was violated by the CAB was incorrect, saying the Constitution provided for reasonable classification and the non-Muslims in the three Islamic nations constituted a specific class. He said the bill is intended to ameliorate the conditions of those who have fled their homes and do not have the option to return. He played on the word “minority” to remind the opposition that it was the term that often figures in its formulation, only this time it applied to those in countries covered by the bill.
He also responded to the criticism that bill had failed to cover Tamils who face persecution in Sri Lanka. Shah said that India had taken specific measures to help specific communities at different points in time , saying that citizenship was indeed offered to refugees in 1964. “ We also took in people from erstwhile east Pakistan in 1969 and from Uganda. This bill is designed to specifically help the minorities from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan.”
He cited the examples of former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and BJP leader and deputy prime minister in the erstwhile NDA ministry, L K Advani who have migrated from Pakistan and were given similar rights in the past.
The opposition, led by interventions by Congress’s Manish Tewari, Trinamool’s Saugata Roy and RSP’s N K Premchandran, even went to the extent of saying the bill did not pass the test of constitutionality and must not be admitted or taken up for consideration by Parliament.
Opposition parties that vehemently opposed the CAB included SP, BSP, NCP, AIMIM and Trinamool.
The debate also saw AIMIM chief Asaduddin Owaisi tearing the bill, saying it was making Muslims “stateless” and will lead to another Partition.