NEW DELHI: The Citizenship (Amendment) Bill is set to become law with the Rajya Sabha passing the hotly debated and polarising legislation by 125-99 votes on Wednesday after a lengthy discussion over its provisions offering citizenship to Hindus and five other minorities from Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh.
The numbers did not prove a challenge for the government as it notched a comfortable tally even without the support of three Shiv Sena members who chose to boycott the vote. The move helped the government by bringing down the House’s effective strength marginally.
The bill, which will become law after getting the President’s assent, opens a path of citizenship for Hindus, Christians, Sikhs, Buddhists, Parsis and Jains fleeing religious persecution.
Just like in the Lok Sabha, the debate saw the opposition attacking the government for a new citizenship scheme sculpted after the Hindutva idea of nationhood. The opposition said the bill discriminated against Muslims and was violative of the right to equality enshrined in the Constitution. Jamiat Ulama-i-Hind, an influential body of clerics, announced its decision to challenge the new citizenship regime in court.
Home minister Amit Shah defiantly stood his ground and said a law meant to protect religious minorities from persecution in the three Muslim-majority countries could not have Muslims under its ambit. He also asserted that the legislation would clear judicial scrutiny as the proposed law, under the doctrine of “reasonable classification”, did provide for exceptions from equal application of law in certain situations.
Besides the three Shiv Sena MPs who left the chamber, BJP member Anil Baluni, Independents Veerendra Kumar and Amar Singh and NCP’s Majeed Memon (all unwell) were absent. NCP’s Vandana Chavan took leave for personal reasons. According to political sources, other absentees included MPs from regional parties who were not seen in the House at the time of voting.
The government’s cause was powered by the help it received from AIADMK, with 11, and BJD, with seven MPs, voting for the CAB along with YSRCP and TDP. After dilly-dallying, AGP voted for the CAB as did PMK, SDF and BDF along with Independents, including nominated members.
The margin between the government and the opposition was wider in the divisions over five opposition amendments that were negated 124-98. The vote once again underlined that the Modi government has got over its Upper House jinx with significant bills like triple talaq and removal of J&K’s special status being passed with relative ease.
Responding to the charge that the bill excluded Muslims, Shah said the opposition was deaf to the distress of people who had to flee their countries and were struggling to build new lives. Shah said the bill did not target one community and efforts to stoke fears among Muslims were wrong as no Indian national would lose citizenship. “Will it be secularism only if Muslims are included? As per your definition, only if Muslims come then it will be secularism,” the minister said, adding over 500 Muslims were given Indian citizenship in the past five years.
With protests against CAB breaking out in Assam, Shah assured that the government was committed to preserving the language and culture of the state and a committee under Clause 6 of the Assam Accord was seized of the matter.
Shah, as Prime Minister Narendra Modi
He repeated his argument that “religion-based” Partition — for which he held Congress responsible — was the reason for the Modi government to bring the bill. “Partition on the basis of religion was the biggest mistake. The bill is meant to address the problems created by it. Congress never confronted these issues. Unlike the current Narendra Modi government, they were interested only in running the government,” Shah said.
While most clarifications sought veered around the exclusion of Muslims in the bill, Shah said the community had nothing to fear and that every citizen should have faith in the government. “The opposition should not play with fire by creating fear. The citizenship of Muslims will not be affected,” he said, in remarks that seemed directed at Congress’s P Chidambaram and Kapil Sibal.
The minister emphasised there was no question of creating a Muslim mukt (free) India as an MP had alleged. “The Modi government has always upheld the Constitution which can never allow anything like that,” he said.
“Congress leaders have themselves said in the past that it was important to take care of Hindu and Sikh refugees. Even Gandhiji said Hindus and Sikhs in Pakistan can come to India if they face persecution and that it would be the Indian government’s responsibility to take care of them by providing them employment,”’ he said.
The minister said Congress’s comments seemed to match those of Pakistan PM Imran Khan not just on CAB but also on Balakot air strikes, LoC surgical strikes and issues related to Article 370.