Citizenship Amendment Bill was part of BJP manifesto; Congress insinuations an insult to collective intelligence of electorate

  • Amit Shah had pointed out in Lok Sabha, the Bill was a key part of BJP electoral campaign and mentioned prominently in its manifesto.

  • The CAB has just been passed by both Houses of the Parliament through due legislative process including robust debates where all issues were discussed threadbare.

  • Chidambaram, a legal luminary, hardly needs reminding that even if the Supreme Court strikes it down, the judiciary is not above the legislative.

Where logic ends and arguments are defeated, rhetoric begins. Sonia Gandhi’s statement that the passing of Citizenship Amendment Bill, 2019, in Rajya Sabha marks a “dark day in the Constitutional history of India” is an example of high rhetoric borne out of frustration and defeatism. It is still understandable. After all, a vanquished Congress has just been reminded that it is not only insignificant as an electoral entity in national politics, it is powerless to even organise a coalition to defeat the Narendra Modi government in House of Elders where the NDA does not enjoy numerical superiority.

However, to describe the passing of a landmark Bill that seeks to protect minorities in neighbouring nations who were forced to take shelter in India due to religious persecution as “victory of narrow-minded and bigoted forces over India’s pluralism” is reminiscent of the political blunder that Hillary Clinton committed when she used the term “basket of deplorables” to describe Donald Trump supporters.

Clinton was quick to express regret but the rest, as they say, is history.

The CAB has just been passed by both Houses of the Parliament through due legislative process including robust debates where all issues were discussed threadbare. Unless the Congress president is suggesting that the Parliament has ceased to become the voice of people in India’s representative democracy, then her comments lead to only one other interpretation: that she is calling the people who have democratically elected this government (which passed the bill) “narrow minded” and “bigoted”.

These comments are not just contemptuous of people, disrespectful towards their choice and an affront to their collective intelligence, Sonia also managed to shift the blame for Congress’s ineptitude on the electorate. It is disingenuous to suggest — as Congress has done — that the Bill “is not just an affront to the eternal principles of equality and religious non-discrimination that have been enshrined in our Constitution, but represents a rejection of an India that would be a free nation for all her people, irrespective of religion, region, caste, creed, language or ethnicity.”

The term “rejection of an India” is interesting because it inverts the entire paradigm of discourse. Congress’s argument would have still been valid had the BJP sprung the legislation on an unsuspecting electorate after winning the elections. But, as Union home minister Amit Shah had pointed out in Lok Sabha, the Bill was a key part of BJP’s electoral campaign and mentioned prominently in its manifesto. So, unless the Congress is insinuating that the electorate has no intelligence or agency, we have to assume that people were supportive of BJP’s vision document and voted in their favour because they wanted the implementation of its policies.

The remaining part of the statement is high rhetoric that carries little meaning. A narrow-tailored law that is legislated on the basis of ‘reasonable classification’ does not militate against any provision of the Constitution, including Article 14, as noted lawyer Harish Salve has pointed out.

According to Salve, who successfully argued India’s case at the International Court of Justice (ICJ) on Kulbhushan Jadhav, “reasonable classification” is positive discrimination that seeks to give religiously persecuted people from three Islamic nations some extra benefits in naturalization, such as reducing the window from 11 years to six.

But that does not mean Muslims from these nations may not apply for Indian citizenship. Though they are not religious minorities in Islamic nations, they still can, and their cases would be duly considered in accordance with India’s existing asylum laws. Also, the passing of CAB has no bearing on India’s Muslims citizens whose status is on par with any Indian citizen of any faith.

In other words, Congress’s key charge, that “religion has become a determinant of nationhood” is misleading. The legislation has been done on the basis of ‘class’ (minorities) who have been wronged in their homelands and whose right to life and practice of their faith is at stake, and India being the ancestral and civilizational home for these persecuted people ought to provide them with a ‘natural home’.

Incidentally, in 2003, while speaking in Rajya Sabha, former prime minister Manmohan Singh, then Leader of Opposition in Rajya Sabha, suggested that minorities in Bangladesh who have been forced to take refuge in India, should be given citizenship. Singh’s exact words were: “While I am on this subject, Madam, I would like to say something, about the treatment of refugees. After the partition of our country, the minorities in countries like Bangladesh, have faced persecution, and it is our moral obligation that if circumstances force people, these unfortunate people, to seek refuge in our country, our approach to granting citizenship to these unfortunate persons should be more liberal.”

Sonia’s sanctimonious tripe ironically reflects why Congress finds itself alienated from people and battling an existential crisis. The contentious nature of the bill perhaps triggered exhaustive debates in both Houses of Parliament where Union home minister Amit Shah issued a point by point rebuttal to the Opposition’s charges against the bill. And yet the sum and substance of Congress’ stance is that the Bill is “anti-Muslim”, unconstitutional and may easily be struck down in the Supreme Court.

As has already been noted, the Bill in no way discriminates against the Muslims or take away their rights and entitlements as Indian citizens. The Bill, as Rajya Sabha MP Swapan Dasgupta has pointed out, is also inconsonant with Geneva Convention on refugees. As far as the Supreme Court is concerned, Congress has already indicated that it shall move the apex court.

The party’s senior leader and former Union home minister P Chidambaram has even sought to build tacit pressure on the Supreme Court judges, pushing it to veto a Bill that has been passed by both Houses of Parliament.

Chidambaram, a legal luminary, hardly needs reminding that even if the Supreme Court strikes it down, the judiciary is not above the legislative. The Parliament retains the sovereign right to legislate and undo judicial decrees.

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Updated Date: Dec 12, 2019 12:59:00 IST