The Lok Sabha on Monday passed the Citizenship Amendment Bill (CAB) that seeks to give citizenship to refugees from the Hindu, Christian, Buddhist, Sikh and Zoroastrian communities fleeing religious persecution from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan. The Bill was passed 311-80 with zero abstentions, after the Opposition put up a spirited attack against it.
Responding to the five-hour debate that saw nearly 48 speakers from various parties participate, Union Home Minister Amit Shah said it was a “historic Bill” that sought to complete what the “Nehru-Liaqat pact could not do.”
To repeated questions on the National Register for Citizens (NRC), he said it would be done soon.
According to him, the Bill abided by the Constitution and “there is no violation.” “Under the principle of reasonable classification citizenship can be granted and there is no violation of Article 14,” he said.
“India can’t be a mute spectator to the religious persecution of minorities happening in our neighbouring countries. We have given refuge to everyone without exception at various points of time in history,” he said.
Adding that the Muslim population had grown to 14% from 9.8%, he said, “This Bill will not affect Indian Muslims or their rights at all.”
I would like to specially applaud Home Minister @AmitShah Ji for lucidly explaining all aspects of the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2019. He also gave elaborate answers to the various points raised by respective MPs during the discussion in the Lok Sabha.
— Narendra Modi (@narendramodi) December 9, 2019
He said that other neighbouring countries like Nepal and Sri Lanka were not mentioned as those were not theocratic states.
This is a simple amendment but hits at illegal migrants, noted the Minister. “This will benefit the Bengali refugees the most. There is no need to fear now... anyone who has or does not have document is welcome. Refugees need not fear but those coming here illegally are not welcome,” he said.
He added that the northeast would not be touched.
The majority of parties representing the northeastern States supported the Bill, as their concerns had been taken care of.
The Sikkim Kranti Morcha (SKM) opposed it, however, with MP Indra Hang Subba demanding that the State be given exemptions on the lines of other northeastern States.
Calling the Bill “heart-breaking” Trinamool MP Abhishek Banerjee said: “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.”
Questioning why the Bill is only looking at three countries, he said: “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. This Bill is anti-India and anti-Bengali also.”
DMK MP Dayanidhi Maran said: “This is a “half-hearted” Bill which has completely ignored Sri Lankan Tamils. The government is preoccupied with its hatred for Muslims.”
“You have not done anything so far to win the support of minorities or to give them comfort. Are you the Home Minister only for North India or all of India? There was no mention of Christians in the CAB in the BJP’s election manifesto, so I want to ask why the party is seeking to divide the minorities in the country.
“You say that Kashmir is part of India, will you give citizenship to Muslims who are fleeing from Pakistan-Occupied Kashmir to India? No, because you have one stand — we don’t want Muslims,” he said.
Congress MP Manish Tewari noted that “reasonable classification” as mentioned by the Home Minister should mean that equals can’t be treated as unequals.
Calling the Bill unconstitutional, he said it was not the Congress that was responsible for the partition of the country on the basis of religion. “I want to remind the House that the idea of partition on religious basis was first floated in 1935 by Hindu Mahasabha... by Savarkar.”
AIMIM chief Asaduddin Owaisi, speaking against the Bill, said: “I want to know why this government is so opposed to Muslims. Why do you hate us? After all we are also citizens of this country. This Bill has been brought in to accommodate Hindus left behind in NRC which will now make many lakh Muslims stateless. This is a historic blunder.”
He tore up a copy of the Bill, emulating, he said, Mahatma Gandhi’s act of tearing up copies of Race Laws in South Africa in 1910.
Gaurav Gogoi of the Congress demanded that Mr. Shah apologise to Gorkhas, Rajbonshis and others left out of the NRC despite being Indian citizens.
“When you couldn’t complete the NRC exercise properly for 30 crore people, how will you do so for 130 crore people?”
He asked northeastern parties to vote according to their conscience and not political compulsions.