With its strength in Lok Sabha being what it is, the BJP was expected to introduce the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill without any fuss. So, it wasn’t a surprise to note that when the contentious piece of legislation was put to vote in the Lower House after Union Home Minister Amit Shah tabled it in the Parliament, the Lok Sabha reflected the will of the government with 293 members voting in favour of its introduction and 82 voting against.
The interesting thing, however, is to note that in the heated debate that preceded the voting procedure, the Opposition’s tactic was inversely proportional to the strength of its arguments. It was certain that at least in the Lower House, the BJP’s overwhelming majority will make any Opposition stalling the CAB redundant. The real game will be in Rajya Sabha where the government lacks the numbers and needs deft floor management to pass the controversial Bill. The Opposition, led by the Congress and the Trinamool Congress Party, is expected to put up a stiff fight.
At one level, the CAB is reliant on purely a numbers game and its passing, blocking or sending it to a select committee depends on government’s floor management or the Opposition’s unity. At another level, however, the controversial Bill — which seeks to give citizenship status to minority Hindus, Christians, Sikhs, Parsis, Buddhists and Jains from Afghanistan, Pakistan and Bangladesh who were forced to seek shelter in India as refugees due to religious persecution in their homeland — is a battle of ideas.
This battle of ideas must be won on the strength of argument and ideological conviction, not just brute display of numbers. This ideological battle was on display in the Lok Sabha on Monday when the Opposition tried to corner the government by raising questions against legislative competency of the Bill, arguing that since the Bill is violative of the fundamental structure of the Constitution, the preamble, basic rights of an individual and this contentious piece of legislation should therefore not be tabled in the Parliament.
AIMIM MP Asaduddin Owaisi even compared Amit Shah to Adolf Hitler and Israel’s founder David Ben-Gurion but his remarks were expunged from House records. The crux of Opposition’s argument rests on the fact that the proposed CAB militates against Article 14 of the Constitution and that citizenship cannot be based on religion. The gist of Opposition’s charge against the government is that it is trying to divide the country on the basis of religion.
The Union home minister refuted charges that his proposed legislation is anti-minority and said that had the Congress not partitioned the nation on the basis of religion, the need for bringing this legislative remedy wouldn’t have arisen. “This Bill doesn’t take away the right of minorities in India,” said Shah, adding: “Why do we need this Bill today? After Independence, if Congress had not carried out partition of the country on the basis on religion, today we would have not needed this Bill. Congress did Partition on the basis of religion.”
Shah clarified that if any Muslims from these Islamic nations apply for citizenship, those cases will be considered in all seriousness, but we cannot give citizenship to those who have not been religiously persecuted in their own lands. Minorities from these three Islamic nations face religious persecution at home and have nowhere to go apart from India which is their natural, civilizational and ancestral home but it is inconceivable that Muslims are facing religious persecution in nations where they form the majority. Therefore the question of granting them citizenship on this ground does not arise, said Shah.
On the charge that the Bill is violative of Article 14 of the Constitution that promises equality, Shah said that the basis of the Bill is “reasonable classification”, and religious persecution is a valid ground for reasonable classification. It does not violate any proviso of the Constitution, he added, and reminded the House that laws have been framed earlier and citizenship accorded to people on several occasions, including by former prime minister Indira Gandhi in 1971 after the creation of Bangladesh, or attacks on Indians in Uganda by using the provision of reasonable classifications.
In explaining reasonable classification as the basis behind the legislation, Shah also mentioned citizenship rules of the United States which award green cards to migrants not based on equality but the value that they bring to the host nation: in other words reasonable classification as the basis behind their rule.
In touting “reasonable classification” as the basis behind the law, Shah blunted Opposition’s key charge that CAB is violative of the Constitution. Article 14 does not prevent lawmakers from bringing law based on such classification. Therefore ‘round one’ of the CAB debate went in favour of the government.
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Updated Date: Dec 09, 2019 18:36:02 IST