Lok Sabha Passes Citizenship Amendment Bill By a Large Majority

After a day of intense debate, 311 members present voted in favour of the Bill and 80 voted against it.

New Delhi: Late on Monday night, the Lok Sabha passed the controversial Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2019 with a large majority. Of the members present, 311 voted in favour of the Bill and 80 voted against.

The controversial Bill passed after an intense debate on its implications. While it was a given that the Union government would easily sail through the motion in the Lok Sabha, a range of political parties came out to oppose the Bill. 

Some of the BJP’s allies who supported the Bill also made it a point to say that they were not happy with the alleged partisan approach of it. None had any objections to the idea that India should welcome persecuted minorities from neighbouring countries as citizens. 

However, the point of contention to the CAB was two-fold. One, why were only Muslims left out from the list of persecuted minorities? The opposition parties, and some BJP allies as well, questioned the government’s intentions and said that the exclusion of Muslims is a continuation of the BJP’s unhesitant anti-Muslim political stance.

Also read: Lok Sabha: Amit Shah Defends Citizenship Amendment Bill; Congress Calls it ‘Unconstitutional’

Two, many parties asked why only three Muslim-majority nations – Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan – had been singled out to be included in the Bill. The Bill lists the three countries from where persecuted minorities will be recognised as Indian citizens.

So why not Sri Lanka, Myanmar, China or the Maldives, the parliamentarians asked.  

For instance, Dayanidhi Maran of the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, while opposing the Bill, said, “You say Kashmir is part of India, will you give citizenship to Muslims, fleeing Pakistan who come from PoK to Kashmir? No, because you have one stand: we don’t want Muslims.”

“Many refugees from Sri Lanka (are) living in Tamil Nadu, why not think about them? Are you only home minister for North India or all India,” he asked Amit Shah. 

Questions from allies

BJP’s allies Shiromani Akali Dal (Badal) and Janata Dal (United) supported the Bill but asked why Muslims had not been included in the list of persecuted minorities. 

While supporting the Bill, Sukhbir Badal of the SAD said, “…my only request is that we have to preserve our secular status. Why don’t we add Muslims to the Bill, there are cases of Muslims being persecuted in their religious, like the Ahmadiyas.” 

YSR Congress supported the Bill conditionally. Speaking on the issue, P.V. Midhun Reddy of the party said that the Bill would bring relief to those suffering, but that the exclusion of Muslims would mean that Muslim sects like Ahmadiyas and Tamils from Sri Lanka would continue to suffer.

“There is a shortage of funds, I don’t know where the government will bring the funds to provide resettlement to refugees,” he said.

Similarly, the Biju Janata Dal of Odisha extended its support to the government but its member Sharmistha Sethi requested the home minister to include Tamils from Sri Lanka in the Bill. 

Shiv Sena eventually supported the Bill, but not without raising multiple questions. The party recently broke away from the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance.

While agreeing that the problem of illegal immigration had to be dealt with, it said it is unclear why the government has included Afghanistan in the list of neighbouring countries. Shiv Sena MP Vinayak Raut asked about the pressure the Indian economy would come under if a lot of refugees start pouring in.

He asked the government to clarify how many refugees it is expecting will seek shelter in India. He also asked about where the government plans to resettle the refugees who seek citizenship, since large parts of the Northeast have been made exempt. He also asked why Kashmiri Pandits living a displaced life for so long have not been rehabilitated yet. 

Agatha Sangma of Meghalaya’s National People’s Party supported the Bill but wanted the government to exempt the entire Northeast, not merely the Inner Line Permit and Sixth Schedule areas, from the purview of the Bill. Similarly, a range of political parties from the Northeast and part of BJP-led North East Democratic Alliance like NPF, NDPP, MNF etc. supported the Bill but cited some apprehensions. 

Unconditional support

Bihar-based BJP allies like the Janata Dal (United) and Lok Janshakti Party unconditionally supported the Bill. JD(U) member Rajiv Ranjan Singh claimed that the Bill was meant to provide citizenship to only those who are originally from India, and that it should not be seen as compromising India’s secularism.

LJP’s Chirag Paswan said that his party supports the Bill as it had “nothing to do with minorities in India”. He defended the government’s decision not to include Muslims in the Bill as he thought persecution that groups like “Shias and Ahmadiyas” face in Pakistan does not classify as “religious persecution”.

In opposition

The Congress, Samajwadi Party, Bahujan Samaj Party, Assam-based All India United Democratic Front, Nationalist Congress Party, the All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen and the Left Front predictably opposed the Bill, calling it unconstitutional and violative of Article 14 of the Indian constitution that guarantees the right to equality before the law.

Interestingly, the Telangana Rashtra Samithi, Bahujan Samaj Party and Aam Aadmi Party, which have supported the government in parliament on the last few Bills, also opposed the Bill. 

TRS member Nama Nageshwara Rao said, “(The) Bill is not desirable for our multicultural, plural society. Remove bias against Muslims and then we can support Bill.”

Afzal Ansari of the BSP too lashed out at the Bill and said that the Bill may precipitate another partition of India. “It’s true that minorities in those countries suffered oppression, but it’s also true that Muslims who went from India to Pakistan were also not treated as Pakistanis; they were treated as Muhajirs, we should accommodate them as well.”

The Sikkim Krantikari Morcha opposed the Bill and asked why although large parts of northeast was exempted from the Bill, Sikkim was left out from it.

Asaduddin Owaisi, after a hard-hitting speech, tore up a copy of the Bill. He asked why Pakistan-occupied Kashmir and China-occupied Kashmir were not included. “Have we given up Aksai Chin,” he asked, adding that there are so many Muslims among Tibetans and said they should be brought under the Bill’s ambit. 

Likening the Bill as worse than Hitler’s law, he asked, “This Bill shows how much we have deteriorated since the time when our Constitution was drafted (on secular lines). This is like another partition.”

The Communist Party of India (Marxist), while opposing the Bill, moved two amendments which sought to remove all references to religious groups in the Bill. Many other amendments were moved by opposition parties, all of which were defeated.

NCP leader Supriya Sule said, “Why is Nepal left out? People in Nepal, Sri Lanka, Myanmar also suffering atrocities. Please do not make anyone stateless in your own country. The Bill will be struck down in the Supreme Court, what is point of discussion?”

The Congress ranks in the Lok Sabha launched a scathing attack against the Bill. Congress legislative party leader Adhir Ranjan Choudhary said that the Bill violates the very idea of India, as envisioned after independence. “India not just a geographical location, but a civilisation…You want to give relief to oppressed classes, we don’t oppose that, but can’t discriminate on the basis of religion; give (relief) to all oppressed.”

He said the current asylum laws are sufficient to accommodate refugees in India, and that there was no need for a discriminatory law like the Citizenship Amendment Bill. 

Gaurav Gogoi of the Congress said that the Citizenship Amendment Bill cannot be delinked from the National Register of Citizens, and that it was brought to nullify the impact of NRC on non-Muslims. Badrudin Ajmal of AIUDF also reiterated the same point, that the Citizenship Amendment Bill was to provide relief to the Hindus who were excluded from the NRC. He said that the Muslims will be the most evident casualty of the Bill. 

Amit Shah’s response

The home minister responded to the many criticisms of the Bill by saying that the oppositions’ claims were false – the Bill did not violate Article 14, the right to equality or the constitution. “We could have said it violated Article 14 if we had named just Hindus, or just Parsis, or just Sikhs, and so on, but when we talk of the protection of persecuted communities, Article 14 doesn’t come in the way,” Shah said.

Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan had declared themselves Islamic countries and minorities were not being treated well there, he continued. India, Shah said, then had the duty to take in those who were being persecuted. “There is a difference between a refugee and an infiltrator. Those who come here due to persecution, to save their religion and the honour of the women of their family, they are refugees and those who come here illegally are infiltrators,” he said.

To the question of why only three Muslim-majority countries were included, the home minister said that at each juncture the citizenship law was tweaked to serve a “specific purpose”. What he meant was in this case the amendment was being brought to accommodate only minorities from these three countries who have already been living in India in very poor conditions.

However, he added that the Rohingya would never be allowed to become citizens of India, as “they came via Bangladesh”. He also said that India already has an agreement with Nepal, so inclusion of its name in the amendment was not necessary.

Responding to the opposition’s attack, he said, “CAB and NRC are not a trap but will seem (like a) trap to those who want to use ‘ghuspaithiye’ for vote bank politics. Don’t you want Bengali Hindus get citizenship?”

He assured all the minorities of Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan that whether or not they have a ration card or other documents, they could become an Indian citizen through this law.

Shah, however, pedalled the age-old Hindutva hypothesis to attack the Muslim-majority states. He gave some data in terms of percentages to show that the population of minorities in the three countries had come down over the years, while in India it had done up. He said the minorities in the three countries were “either converted, killed, or forced to come to India”.

“In India, in 1991, there were 84% Hindus while in 2011, their numbers went down to 79%. In the same period, the population of Muslims rose from 9.8% to 14%. We didn’t discriminate on the basis of religion, we won’t in the future,” he said, to present a contrasting picture of India.

When asked why the government defined the amendment in terms of religion despite the fact that persecution happens along identitarian lines too in the three countries, he said that had the Congress not accepted Indian Partition in 1947 on the basis of religion, there would have been no need of a law like CAB.