Passage of Citizenship Amendment Bill in Parliament will mark victory of Jinnah's thinking over Gandhi's, claims Shashi Tharoor
New Delhi: The passage of the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill in Parliament will mark the definitive victory of Mohammed Ali Jinnah's thinking over that of Mahatma Gandhi's, senior Congress leader Shashi Tharoor said on Sunday, asserting that the exercise of granting citizenship on the basis of religion will reduce India to a "Hindutva version of Pakistan". The former Union minister also alleged that the BJP government wants to single out "one community" and refuses to grant its members asylum from oppression on the same conditions as other communities.
In an interview to PTI, Tharoor said even if the Bill is passed by both the Houses of Parliament, he is confident that no bench of the Supreme Court will allow such a "blatant violation" of the fundamental tenets of India's Constitution to go unchecked. "It is a shameless performance by a government which as recently as last year, refused to entertain any discussion on developing a National Asylum policy, which I had proposed in a Private Members Bill and shared personally with the then home minister, his MoSes and his home secretary," Tharoor said.
Suddenly, they are going the extra mile in granting citizenship to refugees, whereas in reality, they don't even want to take the basic steps as required under international law to improve the determination of refugee status or ensure decent treatment of refugees, he alleged. "All of this makes it abundantly clear that this is merely a cynical political exercise to further single out and disenfranchise an entire community in India and in doing so, a betrayal of all that was good and noble about our civilization. It will reduce us to a Hindutva version of Pakistan," Tharoor asserted.
Asked about the Congress' stand on the Bill, he said, "Though I am not an official spokesperson for the party, I do believe that all of us in the Congress are clear that the Citizenship Amendment Bill is not just an affront to the basic tenets of equality and religious non-discrimination that have been enshrined in Article 14 and 15 of our Constitution, but an all-out assault on the very idea of India." India's freedom movement split on the issue of whether religion should be the determinant of nationhood and those who believed in that principle were the ones who advocated the idea of Pakistan, he said.
"Mahatma Gandhi, (Jawaharlal) Nehru, Maulana (Abul Kalam) Azad, Dr Ambedkar believed the opposite, that religion had nothing to do with nationhood. Theirs was the idea of India and they created a free country for all people of all religions, regions, castes and languages," Tharoor said. The Constitution reflects this basic idea of India which the BJP now seeks to betray, he alleged.
Asked about the contention that religion cannot be the basis of citizenship, he said the BJP has paved the way for Pakistan's founder Mohammad Ali Jinnah's idea of a nation — where religion would be intrinsic to nationhood — to take root in India and in doing so, dismember the idea of India that Mahatma Gandhi, Nehru, Vallabhbhai Patel, Azad, Ambedkar and their contemporaries fought for.
"The passage of this Bill will mark the definitive victory of Jinnah's thinking over Mahatma Gandhi's. How ironic that it should be the stridently chauvinistic BJP that ensures the final vindication of Mohammad Ali Jinnah," the 63-year-old MP from Thiruvananthapuram said. He said the Bill also goes against the historic legacy that Hindus were proud to lay claim to.
"Swami Vivekananda had famously told the World Parliament of Religions in Chicago in 1893 that he was proud to speak for a land that has always offered refuge to the persecuted of all nations and faiths," he said. "We lived up to Vivekananda's values in giving shelter to Tibetan refugees, the Bahai community, Sri Lankan Tamils, and 10 million Bangladeshis – the largest refugee exodus in human history – without ever asking about their religion," he said.
Referring to the Muslims, he said the BJP government wants to single out one community and refuses to grant it asylum from oppression on the same conditions as other communities. They are also ensuring that members of the same community within India will be subject to a climate of fear and oppression that will get worse in the wake of this exercise, he claimed.
The contentious Citizenship (Amendment) Bill that seeks to grant citizenship to non-Muslim refugees from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan if they faced religious persecution there is likely to be introduced in Lok Sabha on 9 December. On the prospects of the Bill in Parliament, Tharoor said despite the majority that the ruling party currently enjoys, he is confident that the Opposition, including some parties that may have normally been sympathetic to the BJP but disagree with the proposed Bill, will come together and offer the strongest possible resistance in both Houses.
"The BJP may be able to bulldoze the legislation through the Lok Sabha but in the Rajya Sabha they are likely to face a sterner test since they don't enjoy the same absolute majority there," he said. This Bill would not just alienate an entire community based on faith, it would completely ignore all other forms of persecution: on the basis of ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, political opinion, he claimed.
It would create a climate of hatred and discrimination against one community, Tharoor said. The Congress is in favour of India offering shelter and even citizenship to persecuted minorities from neighbouring countries, but not to specifying of their religious affiliations, he said, claiming that the Bill is an "assault on the very soul of India".
Asked about a National Register of Citizens (NRC) nationwide as proposed by the BJP, he claimed there is tremendous opposition to the idea because in practice it will cause enormous social upheaval. "I have already personally received hundreds of messages and emails from many, even Bengali Hindus who have been in Assam for generations, who are worried that they could soon be the target of hate crimes should the Bill be cleared," he said.
The Congress had first proposed an NRC in Assam to fulfil the terms of the Assam Accord, but now both the Congress and the BJP have found it a deeply flawed exercise, he said. "Can you imagine the same flaws replicated on a national scale? If the government carries out an all India NRC, millions of people born and raised here, who know no other home, will get excluded as many won't be able to 'prove' their citizenship," Tharoor said.
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