New Delhi: Former Union ministers and senior Congress leaders P. Chidambaram, Kapil Sibal and Anand Sharma led their party’s charge against the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill (CAB) in Rajya Sabha, asking the government if it had taken the advice of the law department. Chidambaram said that the contentious clauses of the Bill would be appealed in court and because its future ultimately lay in the hands of “unelected judges and unelected lawyers”, thus is “a slap on the parliament”.
The Congress party’s leaders also said if the Bill was based around religious persecution alone, why it left out persecuted communities like Ahmadiyas and Hazaras from its purview. They also asked why refugees from only three countries have been considered under the law and Bhutanese Christians and Sri Lankan Hindus have been left out.
‘An arbitrary fiat, a slap on Parliament’
The sharpest attack from the Congress came from P. Chidambaram, who termed the legislation an “arbitrary executive fiat”. He said since it was bound to land in court due to its contentious clauses and that its future would ultimately lay in the hands of “unelected judges and unelected lawyers” and thus it was “a slap on the parliament.” Chidambaram also exuded confidence that the law would be “struck down” by the judiciary.
Chidambaram also questioned if the Centre went by the advice of the law ministry or the solicitor general given to the home ministry in the matter. “I dare the government to lay the opinion of the law department,” he said, accusing the government of “wrecking the constitution from within”.
Speaking later, law minister Ravishankar Prasad said that the law ministry had vetted the Bill and had found it to be constitutional.
Why religion as basis?
Stating that it was an “insidious bill,” the former Union law minister also asked, “Why has the government bunched only three of our neighbours and not the rest with whom we share borders?”
He dared the government to reply why were Ahmaddiyas and Hazaras left out of the category of persecuted minorities under this law; why was religious persecution, and not any other, made the basis for this law; and why were Bhutanese Christians and Sri Lankan Hindus not included in the list of persecuted minorities.
‘Government advancing Hindutva agenda’
Chidambaram said that the legislation violated provisions of Article 14 that provide for equality. He accused the government of “ramming through this Bill to advance its Hindutva agenda,” saying “this is a sad day.”
Sibal too charged that the Bill “weakens the foundation of our culture and ethos” and urged the Centre not to “convert the secular republic of India into a Jurassic republic.”
He said “religion cannot be a factor in considering if a person should be granted citizenship” and said the Bill gives “legal colour to the two-nation theory”.
‘Congress believes in one-nation theory, BJP does not’
Responding to home minister Amit Shah’s statement that the need for CAB would not have arisen if the Congress had prevented the partition of India on the basis of religion, Sibal said: “I don’t understand which history books the home minister has read. Two-nation theory is not our theory. It was perpetrated by Savarkar. I request the home minister to withdrawn that allegation because we in Congress believe in that one nation, you don’t believe in that.”
He also quoted senior BJP leader L.K. Advani to say, “Anyone fleeing religious persecution is a refugee, and cannot be equated with an illegal immigrant.” Further, he quoted from the Citizenship Act to state: “Someone can be an Indian citizen if one parent is a citizen, and the other is not an illegal migrant.”
“Only time will tell how history will view this ‘historic’ Bill”
Earlier during the discussion, Anand Sharma too attacked the Narendra Modi government by saying that while it was claiming that this was a “historic” Bill, “only time will tell how history will view it”.
He charged that “this Bill is an assault on the very foundation of the Indian constitution, it is an assault on the Republic of India. It hurts the soul of India. It is against our constitution and democracy. It fails the morality test.”
Another Congress MP Ripun Bora, while referring to the repercussions of the government pushing the legislation, said: “Assam is burning. North East region is burning. You have already finished Assam and now you want to finish the entire country through this Bill.”
He also said that the government does not have any information or data regarding how many people have applied from these three neighbouring countries for citizenship or their religious identity. “If the government doesn’t have any data, then on what basis the government is bringing this Bill. The government want to fulfil its hidden agenda of polarisation”, he added.
Sonia Gandhi’s statement
Congress chairperson Sonia Gandhi issued a statement saying the passage of the Bill marks the victory of “narrow-minded and bigoted forces” over India’s pluralism. “The Bill fundamentally challenges the idea of India that our forefathers fought for and, in its place, creates a disturbed, distorted and divided India where religion will become a determinant of nationhood,” she said.
She added that India is a nation that has historically offered refuge and protection to the persecuted of “all nations and all faiths”. Gandhi noted that it is “ironic” that the Bill is being pushed through while country and the whole world is celebrating the 150th birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi.