LS passes Citizenship (Amendment) Bill by overwhelming majority: BJP gets support from JDU, YSRCP, BJD; Opposition calls legislation discriminatory

  • Dubbing the CAB bill as 'unconstitutional', Opposition leaders Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury, Saugata Roy, NK Premchandran, Gaurav Gogoi, Shashi Tharoor, Assaduddin Owaisi, and Supriya Sule, among others opposed the introduction of the bill

  • Rejecting the Opposition's allegations that the bill is on communal lines, Shah said that the measure has the endorsement of 130 crore citizens of the country as it was the part of the BJP manifesto in the 2014 and 2019 Lok Sabha election

  • On 4 December, the Centre had said that the citizenship bill will not be applicable in areas under the ILP and the Sixth Schedule in the North East

The Citizenship (Amendment) Bill was passed by the Lok Sabha by an overwhelming majority on Tuesday after an animated and contentious debate during which Home Minister Amit Shah gave a point-by-point rebuttal of the the Opposition's concerns about the Bill and assured northeastern states that the legislation wouldn't affect their state's laws or way of life.

While introducing the Bill on Monday, Shah had said that the proposed law has the "endorsement of 130 crore Indians".

However, dubbing the draft as "unconstitutional", Opposition leaders Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury, Saugata Roy, NK Premchandran, Gaurav Gogoi, Shashi Tharoor, Assaduddin Owaisi, and Supriya Sule, among others opposed the introduction of the bill, which seeks to give citizenship to non-Muslims from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan escaping religious persecution there, saying that the move to grant citizenship on the basis of religion was one among many aspects of the Bill that are a violation of various provisions of the Constitution.

Defending the introduction of the bill, Shah said the Congress had "divided" the country on the basis of religion that is why it was necessary to bring the Bill. He added that it had been drafted on the basis of reasonable classifications provided under the Constitution.

The tabling of the emotive Bill in the Lok Sabha came amid protests and incidents of violence in northeastern states with most of the student unions and regional political parties opposing it, saying it will nullify the provisions of the Assam Accord of 1985, which fixed 24 March, 1971, as the cut-off date for deportation of all illegal immigrants irrespective of religion.

Assam and Tripura, two of the eight states that share international boundaries with China, Bangladesh, Myanmar and Bhutan, roiled with protests on Monday despite Shah's assurances, PTI reported. The 48-hour Assam bandh called by the All Moran Students' Union (AMSU) to protest against the bill and seek Scheduled Tribe status for six communities affected normal life in several parts of the state.

Hundreds of men, women and children poured into streets of Lakhimpur, Dhemaji, Tinsukia, Dibrugarh, Sivasagar, Jorhat, Majuli, Morigaon, Bongaigaon, Udalguri, Kokrajhar and Baksa districts soon after the bandh began at 5 am on Monday, burning discarded tyres and blocking highways.

'CAB fulfillment of BJP's poll promise'

While introducing the bill in the Lok Sabha on Monday afternoon, Shah rejected the Opposition's allegations that the Bill is on communal lines. He said that the measure has the endorsement of 130 crore citizens of the country as it was the part of the BJP  manifesto in the 2014 and 2019 Lok Sabha elections.

"We will have to differentiate between intruders and refugees. Citizenship (Amendment) Bill does not discriminate against anyone and does not snatch anyone’s rights," Shah said while initiating the debate. Trying to allay apprehensions of people of the North East, Shah said that the Narendra Modi government is "committed to protect" the customs and culture of people of the region and informed the House that Manipur will be brought under Inner Line Permit (ILP) regime.

On 4 December, the Centre had said the Bill will not be applicable in areas under the ILP and the Sixth Schedule.

The home minister said under the proposed legislation, citizenship will be granted to refugees coming from the three countries after facing religious persecution there even without documents, including ration cards. Noting that India has given similar rights to people in the past, Shah said Congress veteran Manmohan Singh and BJP leader LK Advani could become the prime minister and deputy prime minister respectively, because of similar provisions after they resettled in India from present day Pakistan.

"This bill is not even .001 percent against Muslims. It is against infiltrators," he said while introducing the bill on Monday.

Opposition slams ill

During the debate, which was marked by heated arguments, AIMIM chief Asaduddin Owaisi tore up a copy of the bill, saying it was aimed at making Muslims "stateless" and will lead to "another Partition".

According to the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2019, members of Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Jain, Parsi and Christian communities, who have come from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan, till 31 December, 2014, facing religious persecution there, will not be treated as illegal immigrants but given Indian citizenship.

Congress MP Manish Tewari, the first to begin the debate on the Bill, opposed the proposed law and said that it is "unconstitutional" and "contrary to the spirit of the Constitution which is secular". "Equals cannot be treated as unequal. When a person comes to India, he is a refugee. You cannot discriminate against him on the basis of religion," he said during the debate.

"The Bill is against the Constitution, against the spirit of Constitution and against the ideology propounded by Babasaheb Ambedkar," Tewari said. Discrimination on the basis of religion, he further said was not in tune with the Preamble of the Constitution which specifically mentions the word 'secularism'. "Secularism is embedded in the Constitution," he said.

Another Congress MP Gautam Gogoi said that party leaders could move court if the legislation is passed by Parliament as some in the party are "itching to" challenge it legally. Asked if the Congress will challenge the Bill in the Supreme Court, Gogoi at a party briefing said, "I am sure, if this Bill is passed, there are some in the Congress party who are itching to challenge this in the court."

Supriya Sule (NCP) said the perception is that every Muslim is feeling insecure and that the largest minority community should not feel left out. Referring to DMK MP K Kanimozhi, she said, "What happens to those who practise atheism?"

She also asked why Mynamar and Sri Lanka were not included in the list of countries along with Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan. Sule claimed the Bill will not survive judicial scrutiny.

A former ally of the BJP, the Shiv Sena on Monday said in Lok Sabha that people who get Indian citizenship under the Bill should not be granted voting rights for 25 years. Party MP Vinayak Raut said there is no clarity yet on how and in which state these people would be rehabilitated.

He said framing laws is not enough and there is a need to implement them properly. He also said that while citizenship should be granted, such people should not get voting rights for 25 years. Raut was of the view that besides Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan, refugees from Sri Lanka should also be allowed to get Indian citizenship.

Meanwhile, BJP MP Rajender Agarwal supported the Bill and said the country cannot ignore the suffering of the people who have come here after facing religious persecution. He said Pakistan has failed to protect its minorities under the Nehru-Liaquat pact.

While NDA allies the JD(U) and the LJP extended support to the bill, fence-sitters like the BJD and the YSRCP also supported the bill while suggesting that Muslims should also be included in the Bill.

Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) chief and MP Sukhbir Singh said Sikhs who continue to live in Pakistan express that they "feel suffocated" there. "We need to protect secular fabric of country. Why don't we add 'Muslims' in the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill? There are Muslims in Pakistan like Ahmadiyas who are also persecuted, since Bill based on religious persecution. It will also help shut the opposition," he said.

Meanwhile, West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee said the NRC and the CAB will  never be allowed in Bengal as long as the TMC is in power. "It's a divisive Bill and shall be opposed at any cost," she said in Kharagpur while claiming that at least 30 people have committed suicide in the state due to panic over the implementation of the National Register of Citizens (NRC).

In the Lok Sabha, TMC MP Abhishek Banerjee referred to the ideology of Swami Vivekananda and said that "had he been alive, he would have been appaled that we are having this discussion on this bill."

He also said that the Bill goes against Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel's definition of unity. "It would be disastrous if we do not uphold the ideals of Mahatma Gandhi, Patel, Vivekananda. It is causing me great anguish and pain. Our India is all about peace. But your idea of India is all about lynchings. Our India is inclusive, your India is divisive," he said.

"Why limit this to only three countries. Sri Lanka is there, Myanmar was part of British India. Why don't you consider them? Because they don't serve your political hunger. NRC was a disaster. It failed in one state and now you want to do it all over India," he added.

He also listed examples of the Bill's failure in Assam, and asked who would be responsible for the deaths. "The CAB is anti-India, anti-Bengali also," he said.

Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury, Leader of the Congress in the Lok Sabha, said the government was trying to create impression that by opposing the legislation, the party was anti-Hindu. "We are opposing the Bill because it is discriminatory in nature. It wreaks havoc on the very foundations of the Constitution. This is a step towards Hindu rashtra. India should maintain the essence of humanity," Chowdhury said.

The Citizenship (Amendment) Bill says, "On and from the date of commencement of the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, 2019, any proceeding pending against a person under this section in respect of illegal migration or citizenship shall stand abated on conferment of citizenship to him."

"Provided that such person shall not be disqualified for making application for citizenship under this section on the ground that the proceeding pending against him and the central government or authority specified by it in this behalf shall not reject his application on that ground if he is otherwise found qualified for grant of citizenship under section."

The BJP-led NDA government had introduced the Bill in its previous tenure and got Lok Sabha's approval. But it did not introduce it in Rajya Sabha, apparently due to vehement protests in the Northeast and lack of majority in the House.

Amit Shah responds to objections

Responding to the Opposition's objections on the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill late on Monday night, Shah said the Bill is not in violation of constitutional provisions.

It will give relief to people living a painful life after facing persecution in neighbouring countries, he said. Had India not been divided on religious lines, there would be no need for the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, he said, in a jibe against the Congress.

The Bill is not a violation of Article 14 of the Constitution as it aims to give citizenship to persecuted people, he said. Addressing the allegations of the Opposition that the Bill was discriminating against the Muslim community, Shah said that the government "has no hate towards Muslims". Addressing Owaisi, Shah said, "Don't force an atmosphere of hate."

He added, "Indian Muslims have nothing to do with the citizenship Bill, they will not suffer injustice." Speaking to the MPs from the northeastern states of Sikkim, Manipur, Mizoram, and Nagaland, Shah clarified the details of the implementation of the Bill in the region.

Responding to Sikkim MP Indra Hang Subba's objection on the state being excluded from his speech while introducing the bill earlier on Monday. He said, "No Sikkim law will be affected by the Citizenship bill, your Assembly will have to ratify the rules, so you are protected."

"There is a difference between Article 370 and 371, will never touch 371, I reassure the entire North East," he added.

On the question about refugees from other countries like Nepal and Sri Lanka being added under the Bill, Shah said, "We haven't included other countries because Bill is meant for specific purpose. India already has an agreement with Nepal, while many refugees from Sri Lanka were given citizenship the in past, when required."

Shah stated, "We will never accept Rohingya refugees as citizens because they come via Bangladesh."

Taking a jibe at the Congress' alliance with the Shiv Sena in Maharashtra, Shah said, "Congress is such a secular party that it has Muslim League as a partner in Kerala and Shiv Sena as its partner in Maharashtra."

Shah concluded by saying that the National Register of Citizens (NRC) would be implemented across the country “at any cost”.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi tweeted that he was delighted by the passage of the Bill and singled out Shah for praise:

With inputs from agencies

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Updated Date: Dec 10, 2019 00:17:59 IST