The Congress divided India on religious lines during the Partition of 1947, Home Minister Amit Shah charged today in parliament as he rebutted the opposition's argument that the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill runs contrary to the principles of equality and secularism under the constitution. The bill was introduced for debate after voting in the Lok Sabha amid loud protests by the opposition.
"The Citizenship (Amendment) Bill wouldn't have been needed if the Congress had not allowed partition on basis of religion. It was the Congress that divided the country on religious lines, not us," Amit Shah shouted as Congress members alleged that the proposed law was against Muslims and opposed the tabling of the bill in the Lok Sabha.
Congress MP Shashi Tharoor had said earlier, "Those who believe religion should determine nationhood, that was the idea of Pakistan."
The bill "endorses the idea of religious discrimination by allowing individuals of only six religious identities to acquire citizenship while excluding the individuals belonging to other religious identities", Mr Tharoor said, vehemently opposing the tabling of the bill.
The proposed law is not a violation of any article of the constitution and was "not even 0.001 per cent" against India's minorities, said the Home Minister.
"Reasonable classification is done. I can discuss laws from across the world that talk about equality. If this is how we want to define equality, why doesn't it apply to the minorities we are referring to? Please explain how minorities get special quota and status for things like education," said Amit Shah, asserting that Article 14 is "not a hurdle".
Article 14 of the Constitution stresses on equality before the law and equal protection of laws.
The Congress's Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury called the bill "targeted legislation over minority population" of the country. "It violates the fundamental principles of the Constitution and is against the preamble," he said.
The Citizenship (Amendment) Bill seeks to amend a six-decade-old law to make it easier for non-Muslim refugees from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan to become Indian citizens.
The original Citizenship Act of 1955 stated that individuals seeking Indian citizenship should have lived in the country for 11 of the last 14 years. The amendment proposes to reduce that time period to five years for non-Muslim applicants, and grants them immunity from government action.
"In 1970, Indira Gandhi took a decision to give citizenship to those from Bangladesh... Why can't people from Pakistan be given citizenship,"Mr Shah questioned.
He said the Bill did not name the Muslim community "even once". You cannot distort it and present it in the House," he said.