Bill violates the idea of India

Activists of various indigenous organizations stage a protest rally in front of Assam Secretariat against the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2016, in Guwahati. PTI

The first repercussions of the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill which was passed this week by the Lok Sabha have been felt in Assam in the form of strong and widespread protests. There is much opposition to the bill in other parts of the North-East, too. The Asom Gana Parishad (AGP) has quit the BJP-led government and alliance in the state. The AGP, which led the anti-foreigner movement in the state in the 1970s and 80s, and those who consider themselves the state’s indigenous people, feel betrayed by the BJP, which had once supported the movement. The bill seeks to confer citizenship on non-Muslim migrants from Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan if they have resided in India for six years, even if without valid papers. The claimed basis is that they are minorities who are persecuted in those countries. Assam’s concern is that it will make over eight lakh Bangladeshi Hindus, who are now illegal migrants in the state, legal residents and citizens and change the demographic, political and cultural identity of the state, and will open the door for a new wave of migration into the region.  

But the impact of the bill goes beyond Assam and the North-East. It affects the entire country by changing the concept of citizenship, its legal and constitutional basis, and essentially and practically the idea of India. The exclusion of Muslims from the beneficiaries of the bill makes it discriminatory, and hence violative of the letter and spirit of the Constitution. The criteria and rules of citizenship define a country. The bill militates against the secular nature of the country and makes it a Hindu country. The government’s argument that it is intended to help persecuted religious minorities in neighbouring countries is falsified by its own ill-treatment and rejection of the Rohingya Muslims from Myanmar. The bill is very unlikely to stand judicial scrutiny as the idea of discrimination on the basis of religion violates the basic structure of the Constitution. 

The government and the BJP have said that the interests of the North-East would be protected. The government has offered to implement Clause 6 of the 1985 Assam Accord, which ensures “constitutional, legislative and administrative safeguards for the Assamese people’’. It has also offered to give Scheduled Tribe (ST) status to some communities in the state. But the aim of the bill is the creation of a Hindu vote bank which would help the party in Assam and West Bengal. This cynical and divisive plan is bound to have dangerous consequences in a state and region where there are strong separatist trends. The ongoing talks with ULFA may be a casualty. The bill presents a new concept of nationhood, which is dangerous for the region and the country. 

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Bill violates the idea of India

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