New Delhi: The Bharatiya Janata Party-led government on Wednesday secured parliamentary approval for the controversial Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2019, that makes religion a criteria for Indian citizenship, marking a fundamental shift in India’s secular ethos and claims.
The Rajya Sabha passed the Citizenship Amendment Bill (CAB) after almost nine hours of debate in which more than 40 MPs spoke.
The CAB, which seeks to provide Indian citizenship to non-Muslims who entered the country from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan till December 31, 2014, will now go to the President for his assent.
The bill, tabled by Union home minister Amit Shah in Rajya Sabha on Wednesday morning, was passed with 125 members voting in favour of the motion and 105 against it.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi welcomed the passage of the bill, calling it “a landmark day for India and our nation’s ethos of compassion and brotherhood”.
“A landmark day for India and our nation’s ethos of compassion and brotherhood! Glad that the #CAB2019 has been passed in the #RajyaSabha. 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,” he tweeted.
Calling it a dark day in the constitutional history of India, Congress interim chief Sonia Gandhi said, “The passage of the CAB marks the victory of narrow-minded and bigoted forces over India’s pluralism. The bill fundamentally challenges the idea of India.”
Several Opposition leaders delivered impassioned speeches against the bill that, they said, was contrary to the country’s secular Constitution and the very idea of India as envisioned by its founding fathers. Mr Shah, who took on the Opposition in the Rajya Sabha for questioning the basis of
CAB, said it was necessitated because of Partition of the country and corrects a historic blunder.
The CAB makes it much easier for Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis and Christians fleeing Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan to become Indians. It also reduces the 11-year-long wait for citizenship for non-Muslims from these three countries to five years.
Mr Shah blamed the Congress for accepting Partition on the basis of religion and said that CAB will give protection to persecuted minorities from three neighbouring countries.
“When Partition happened, it was thought the minorities will get civil rights and lead a normal life, that they will be able to practice their own religion and protect their women. But when we look back, we see what the truth really is. These people did not get their rights. They were either killed, converted or came to India,” Mr Shah said.
Describing CAB as a historic bill, Mr Shah said it will rekindle a 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,” he said.
“They took refuge (in India) but were barred from availing basic facilities like homes, jobs, healthcare and education,” he said and gave examples of the atrocities faced by various minority communities in the three neighbouring Islamic countries.
The home minister also sought to assuage the concerns of Indian Muslims by saying they have nothing to fear as they are and will remain citizens of India and Indian citizens would not be affected by it.
“Muslims have nothing to fear. 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,” Mr Shah said and added, “Indian Muslims are safe and shall always remain safe. I appeal to the Indian Muslims that please do not fall for misinformation. Please do not be misguided. Please do not live in fear. Live fearlessly.”
The home monister said the BJP had clearly indicated its intent to bring this legislation in its 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.
Opposition parties led by the Congress described the CAB as unconstitutional, saying it discriminates against refugees on the basis of religion, and cautioned the government that the proposed legislation would not stand judicial scrutiny.
Initiating the debate on the bill, Congress leader Anand Sharma attacked the BJP saying the manifesto of any political party cannot be above the Constitution of India.
“The bill that you have brought is an assault on the very foundation of the Indian Constitution, it is an assault on the Republic of India. It hurts the soul of India. It is against our constitution and democracy. It fails the morality test... it is divisive and discriminatory,” Mr Sharma said.
Targeting the Congress, Mr Shah stated that the Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan had quoted Congress leaders in his speech to the UN. “The Congress Party has been taking the same line as Pakistan on issues like surgical strikes, Article 370 and now the CAB,” he said.
The CAB was cleared by the Lok Sabha late on Monday night with 311 voting in favour and 80 against it.
On Wednesday, the BJP’s floor managers were able to secure the requisite numbers after having extensive talks with several non-NDA parties like the TDP, YSRCP and the BJD. The votes of NDA ally JD(U) were also secured even as several of its leaders expressed concerns regarding the law.
Former NDA ally Shiv Sena, which had backed out of supporting the bill, despite voting for the legislation on Monday, boycotted the voting in Rajya Sabha.
Rajya Sabha TV briefly stopped the live telecast of proceedings from the Upper House when Opposition members heckled Mr Shah over his claims of protecting Assamese interests.
During the debate, Congress leader and former Union minister P. Chidambaram termed the bill as “a slap on the face of Parliament”.
“Parliamentarians are being asked to do something unconstitutional and then the baby is passed on to the judiciary and in the judiciary, lawyers and judges will decide what you have done is constitutional or not. Knowing this is unconstitutional, I am afraid this government is ramming through this bill in order to advance its Hindutva agenda,” he said.
“This government is introducing citizenship by arbitrary laws. By pushing unconstitutional legislations, lawmakers are pushing responsibilities on to the judiciary. Exclusionary-inclusionary hyphenation is beyond logic. The Constitution is being wrecked and demolished from within,” he added.
Trinamul Congress’ Derek O’Brien slammed Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s remarks on CAB. “I read that PM said this will be written in golden letters. I will tell you where it will be written; it will be written on grave of the father of the nation, but which father of the nation? In Karachi, on Jinnah’s grave,” he said.