Assam has been simmering over the past few days ever since Prime Minister Narendra Modi floated the proposal of bringing the Citizenship Bill while speaking at a rally in the northeast state.
The Union government on Tuesday passed the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill
The bill seeks to provide citizenship to non-Muslims from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan
The bill was passed amid severe protests both in and outside the Parliament
The Lok Sabha on Tuesday passed the controversial Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2019 amid protests both inside and outside the Parliament. With the new legislation the Indian government seeks to provide citizenship to non-Muslims from Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan.
The ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has been facing widespread protests on the bill with ally Asom Gana Parishad (AGP) walking out of its pact with Assam over differences on the bill. Ally Shiv Sena and JD(U) have extended support to AGP on the issue.
Assam has been simmering over the past few days ever since Prime Minister Narendra Modi floated the proposal of the bringing the Citizenship Bill at a rally in the northeast state.
Home Minister Rajnath Singh introduced the bill in the Lok Sabha on Tuesday and said that the new legislation aims to give Indian citizenship to all “persecuted religious minorities” from these three neighbouring countries like Hindus, Jains, Sikhs, Christians, Buddhists and Parsis.
“They have no place to go to, except India,” Singh said.
Even as the bill was being introduced and passed in the Parliament on Tuesday, Assam witnessed an indefinite “economic blockade” to protest against the bill. As many as 70 organisations, led by Krishak Mukti Sangram Samiti (KMSS), have said that they would not allow locally produced oil, petroleum products, coal, forest products and limestone to be taken out of the state.
Seeking to assuage the concerns in the Northeast, Singh said the proposed law will not be confined to Assam alone. Protesting organisations in Assam have maintained that all immigrants, irrespective of their religion, who entered the country after 1971, should be deported.
“The burden of those persecuted migrants will be shared by the whole country. Assam alone should not have to bear the entire burden. Government of India is committed to give all help to the State Government and people of Assam,” Singh said.
The BJP appears to have been isolated over the issue.
Mizoram and Meghalaya governments have opposed the bill by adopting resolution against it in their respective cabinet meetings.
Singh further said that the Union Cabinet has also approved grant of ST status to six communities of Assam namely Tai Ahom, Koch Rajbongshi, Chutia, Tea Tribes, Moran and Matak.
The Union Cabinet’s decision can been seen as a balancing act by the central government to strong opposition to the bill in Assam.
Singh added, “At the same time, full safeguards will be provided to protect the interests, rights and privileges of existing Scheduled Tribes of Assam.
“A separate Bill will be brought to grant ST status to Bodo Kacharis in Hill districts of Assam and Karbis in the rest of Assam. Sixth Schedule of the Constitution is also proposed to be amended to strengthen the Autonomous District Councils,” he said.
Singh said the migrants – Hindus, Jains, Christians, Sikhs, Buddhists and Parsis – were earlier given protection against legal action in 2015 and 2016.
“Long term visa provision was made for them. The proposed amendment will make these persecuted migrants eligible to apply for citizenship,” he said.
Singh said citizenship will be given to them only after due scrutiny and recommendation of district authorities and the state government.
The minimum residency period for citizenship is proposed to be reduced from existing 12 years under the present law to seven years.
The legislation also seeks to provide relief to persecuted migrants who have come through western borders of the country to states like Gujarat, Rajasthan, Delhi, Madhya Pradesh and other states, the Home Minister said.
The bill will apply to all States and Union Territories of the country and the beneficiaries of Citizenship Amendment Bill will be able to reside in any state of the country.
The bill was originally introduced in 2016 and was later sent to the JPC, which submitted its report on Monday.
On the basis of the recommendations of the JPC, a fresh bill was introduced on Tuesday.
Opposition parties have raised objections to the bill.
The Congress said many states have opposed the bill and it should be sent to a select committee. As the government did not heed to the demand, the Congress staged a walkout.
TMC’s Saugata Roy dubbed the bill as “divisive” and “insidious” that goes against the basic tenets of the Constitution.
“This is the worst form of vote-bank politics”, Roy said.