'Assam's burden is our burden,' says Rajnath Singh as Citizenship Amendment Bill is passed in Lok Sabha amid protests

The Lok Sabha passed the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2019, on Tuesday amid protests, both inside the House and in the North East.

Amidst the din, Union Home Minister, who moved the Bill, said that the responsibility of the well-being of migrants will belong to the whole of India and not just Assam.

"Assam's burden is the whole nation's burden," he said, stating that "the proposed amendment will make persecuted minorities in Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan "eligible to apply for citizenship".

In the parliament, the Bill was tabled amidst vehement objection by the opposition. The Congress said many states have opposed the Bill and it should be sent to a select committee. With Speaker Sumitra Mahajan not heeding to the demand, the Congress staged a walkout.

The Bill aims to amend the Citizenship Act, 1955, to grant Indian citizenship to Hindus, Christians, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis, and Sikhs who have fled religious persecution in Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan and entered India before December 31, 2014.

File image of Rajnath Singh. PTI

One of the key points of the Bill is that while the minimum residency period for immigrants to be recognised as citizens were 12, it is now seven.

The home minister said that citizenship will be given to them only after due scrutiny and recommendation of district authorities and the state government.

As Singh sought to clarify that Bill is not just for Assam but the whole of India, his speech was met with rounds of "Modi hatao, desh bachao" slogans from opposition leaders.

Amidst the din, Singh said, "A lot of wrong information is being spread in the name of the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill. Which is why it is important to mention that the Bill is not just for Assam but for migrants who settle all over India, in states like Gujarat, Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh. The law applies to all of them. It will apply to all states and Union Territories."

The home minister also said that the slow process of drafting the National Register of Citizens has been completed in a "time-bound manner" by the Central government which is committed to fulfilling this charge.

"As I had said earlier, no Indian citizen will be left out of the NRC. Even after the final list is published, there will be an option for people to go to court," Singh said.

He also spoke on preserving the Assam Accord, and its contentious Clause Six, which he called an "important pillar". Clause 6 of the Accord states that "constitutional, legislative and administrative safeguards, as may be appropriate, shall be provided to protect, preserve and promote the cultural, social, linguistic identity and heritage of the Assamese people.”

Singh's speech, however, is unlikely to calm the All Assam Students’ Union (AASU), along with 30 other organisations, had called for a state-wide 11 hours shutdown in the northeast from 5 am to 4 pm on Tuesday, protesting against the Bill.

The shutdown is being viewed as one of the rare instances when the whole of the North East region has come together over an issue. The BJP appears to have been isolated over the issue. 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 JD(U), have opposed this legislation. Mizoram and Meghalaya governments have opposed the bill as well by adopting a resolution against it in their respective cabinet meetings.

 

Congress leader Mallikarjun Kharge and Trinamool Congress legislator Saugata Roy both advocated that the Bill be sent to a select committee. Roy was particularly scathing and said the Bill would "burn" Assam and parts of the North East, leaving Bengal to carry the burden of people who would enter the state through Alipurduar as a result. "In every meeting (called by the select committee) I said the Bill needs to go because it has divisive parts. They felt no need to evolve a consensus," Roy said.

Saugata Roy. Image Courtesy: Facebook

Saugata Roy. Image Courtesy: Facebook

He also asked for a secular Bill. "Do not mention communities or just three countries. What about people who come in from Sri lanka and Nepal? We should act as a humanitarian nation," he added. Calling the Bill an "insidious, divisive" mechanism, Roy pronounced that the Matua community stands with Mamata Banerjee's Trinamool Congress and cannot be wooed by the BJP through Bills like these. The Trinamool Congress then staged a walkout.

BJP's Darjeeling MP SS Ahluwalia spoke in Bengali and quoted the poet Dwijendralal Roy, saying the people who fought for freedom likely did not realise that they would one day be driven out of their own land and at such a juncture, the government owed it to them to help them.

Biju Janata Dal MP Bhartruhari Mahtab moved an amendment to the Bill, asking for Bangladesh to be removed from the list of countries in it if Sri Lanka or Myanmar were not included. Calling it a 'manifesto', CPM leader Mohammed Salim said citizenship cannot be granted on the basis of religion and that the Bill was a pre-election ploy to garner votes.

All India United Democratic Front MP Badruddin Ajmal and All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen MP Asaduddin Owaisi rejected the Bill, demanding its withdrawal.

Shiv Sena MP Arvind Ganpat Sawant said the Bill was a continuation of the tenets based on which the Sena was formed, the protection of the rights of indigenous people, and called for talks between the BJP and the AGP for a resolution of the issues in Assam.

BJP MPs  Bijoya Chakravarti, Meenakshi Lekhi and Sunil Kumar Singh all spoke for the Bill. Lekhi cited data that seemed to correlate rising violence on women with Muslim population in Assam.

In his ending reply, Singh replied to the issues raised, especially to Roy's call for a "secular" bill, by saying that the government was happy to extend longterm visas to Muslims from Pakistan or Afghanistan who are facing religious persecution in their own countries. "Whatever has been done has been keeping Assam on the forefront," he said.

Singh also quoted excerpts from the earlier speeches of several political figures beginning from Jawaharlal Nehru to Manmohan Singh, vouching for the acceptability and necessity of the Bill, before Speaker Mahajan declared it passed by the Lok Sabha after voting.

With inputs from PTI

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Updated Date: Jan 08, 2019 18:19:29 IST

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