Citizenship Amendment Bill 2019 gets Cabinet nod

Home Minister Amit Shah. (PTI photo)

The controversial Bill granting citizenship to non-Muslims from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan is likely to be introduced in Parliament in the next couple of days with the Cabinet giving its nod with provisions that the ruling BJP believes will allay the concerns raised by north-eastern states.

This is the second time that the BJP will be bringing the Bill, which has triggered protests in the north-east and among Opposition for considering religion as a basis for granting citizenship, as the previous Narendra Modi government's attempt hit the Rajya Sabha hurdle after clearing the Lok Sabha.

The Citizenship (Amendment) Bill 2019, which was part of the ruling BJP's 2019 manifesto, seeks to amend the Citizenship Act 1955 to grant Indian nationality to persecuted Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis and Christians in Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan who had entered India before December 2014.

The north-east states had been opposing it as they fear that this would alter their local population with the influx of Hindu migrants who illegally entered India after the 1971 Indo-Bangladesh war while several Opposition parties were opposed to the exclusion of Muslims from the Bill, which they said was "another attempt at communal polarisation".

While there was no official word on the changes made in the Bill compared to the previous one, the Bill is likely to exclude areas protected by the Inner Line Permit (ILP) regime, which is aimed at preventing settlement of other Indian nationals in Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland and Mizoram, and areas which are governed under the Sixth Schedule of the Constitution. Sources said this should address concerns of the north-east states.

Union Information and Broadcasting Minister Prakash Javadekar said the Bill takes care of "all interests, India's interests" even as he refused to provide details of the Bill. He said details will be known when it comes before Parliament " tomorrow or day after" and "when the details are out, I am sure all will welcome it."

"It is in natural interest, in national interest. It is not against anybody," he told a press conference. He was responding to questions on Opposition's demand that citizenship should not be granted on the basis of religion.

The clearance for the Bill came after Home Minister Amit Shah held a series of meetings with stakeholders to address concerns raised by north-eastern states, the latest round being on Tuesday late evening.

Leader of Congress in Lok Sabha Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury said his party will spell out its stand after the details are known and the Bill is presented in Parliament. His party colleague Shashi Tharoor said the Bill violates the basic idea of India that religion can never be a reason for citizenship.

Soon after the Cabinet nod, Sana Iltija, daughter of Mehbooba Mufti's who handles the former Chief Minister's Twitter handle, tweeted, "India - No country for Muslims."

The CPI(M) said it opposes the Bill which seeks to grant citizenship on the basis of religion. "India’s citizens are its citizens, irrespective of what faith they follow or don’t, what they eat, what work they do, their caste, creed, place of residence, gender or colour of skin. No to Citizenship Amendment Bill," CPI(M) General Secretary Sitaram Yechury tweeted.

"It is simple. Citizenship cannot be determined by or linked to religion. This is what makes the Citizenship Amendment Bill unacceptable and unconstitutional. The CAB is aimed at destroying the basis of India," he added.

The importance the BJP gives to the Bill was underscored by Defence Minister Rajnath Singh during his speech at the BJP Parliamentary Party meeting here on Tuesday.

While equating the Bill with the move to revoke special status of Jammu and Kashmir under Article 370, Singh sought to blunt the Opposition concerns that it was meant to exclude Muslims. The Opposition is also against providing citizenship on the basis of religion, saying it goes against the Constitutional values.

In BJP's defence Singh said, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan are essentially Islamic nations and non-Muslims are at the receiving end of religious persecution there.

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