When the government first brought the Citizenship Amendment Bill (CAB) to Parliament in January this year, it was unconstitutional through and through since it sought to confer Indian citizenship in a discriminatory manner based on religion, as though India is a theocratic state.
The revised measure cleared by the Union Cabinet on Wednesday — and expected to be introduced in Parliament on Monday — is no different from the original bill in its fundamentals, and suffers from exactly the same frailty. So, in what way is this bill a revised venture? The answer lies in dubious politics, which also has the effect of undercutting the Constitution.
The strongest voice against the January bill came from the Northeast —where the BJP has muscled its way into governments in several capitals since coming to power at the Centre in 2014 — and civil society in those states. So the bill in its new avatar says illegal Hindu immigrants will not be permitted to settle in most of the Northeast (as this will hurt the BJP’s political prospects there).
Thus, when illegal immigrants become citizens under the new law, they will not be free to reside where they like as other citizens. This is plainly discriminatory.
The new law is meant to give refuge to non-Muslims supposedly running away from religious persecution in Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh. The government has offered no data on the numbers involved. Indeed, besides weak anecdotal evidence, the whole construct seems a hoax.
Hindus, Sikhs, Christians, Parsis, Jains and Buddhists are not clamouring for entry into India. From Afghanistan, the figure is likely to be nil. From Pakistan, close to nil. Indeed, those facing discrimination there are mainly Islamic sects, like Ahmadiyas and Shias.
Essentially, then, the whole thing will centre on Bangladesh, which borders India’s Northeast and West Bengal, and the rest is a smokescreen. If illegal Bangladeshi immigrants, if any, are denied entry to the Northeast as envisioned in the bill to be tabled, they are most likely to flock to West Bengal, Odisha and Bihar, given the geography.
Besides creating religion-based citizenship, and questioning democracy’s inviolable principle of equality before the law, the supposedly revised CAB also violates the 1985 Assam Accord. Under this law, those found to have entered India from Bangladesh after March 24, 1971 are aliens, while the CAB permits illegal Hindus to become Indian citizens if they came by December 31, 2014 — a completely arbitrary date.
In keeping with BJP-RSS’s political theology, if there is no CAB, there can be no compilation of a National Register of Citizens (NRC). The CAB is meant to give legal cover to illegal Hindus in Assam. The recent disastrous exercise of compiling the NRC for Assam showed there were more Hindu illegals than Muslims. The state BJP rejected the exercise. Thus, the added emphasis by the Centre on a fresh NRC, but only after the CAB is in place.