Government's Explainer On Citizenship Law Amid Opposition Attacks

Congress boss Mallikarjun Kharge has slammed the notification of the Citizenship Amendment Act, or CAA, as the BJP's "desperate attempt at divisive politics".

New Delhi:

The amendments to the citizenship law - passed by Parliament in 2019 and notified by the government Monday evening, to come into effect weeks before the general election - have triggered a back-and-forth with the opposition accusing the ruling BJP of polarising voters, and the government, hitting back.

Amidst this opposition pushback, the Union Home Ministry has released a statement clarifying various points within the CAA and answering questions raised by its critics.

What Has Government Said?

The first point in the government's rebuttal is to stress that Indian Muslims' citizenship rights will not be rescinded or scrapped. The estimated 18 crore Muslim population in India has "equal rights as any other Indian citizen", the government clarified in its statement.

The Citizenship Amendment Act, the government has said, concerns only Hindus, Sikhs, Christians, Parsis, Buddhists, or Jains from three Muslim-majority nations - Bangladesh, Afghanistan, and Pakistan - who fled due to religious persecution and entered India on or before December 31, 2014.

READ | Does CAA Restrict Muslim Migrants? What Government Said

And the CAA only reduces the waiting period for application of citizenship - to qualifying individuals - from 11 years to five. In an earlier clarification, the Home Ministry also insisted the CAA "does not prevent any Muslim, who is persecuted in those countries for practising their version of Islam, from applying for Indian citizenship under the existing laws".

Crucially, the CAA also has no provision for deportation of individuals from the above three countries who have been found living illegally in India, the government said. This is because "India has no agreement with any of these three to repatriate migrants", the government said.

So there is no question about repatriation, it clarified.

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Following from that point, the government also dismissed rumours Indian citizens - the reference being to Muslims - will be asked to maintain, and show, citizenship papers. "No Indian citizen will be asked to produce any document to prove citizenship," the ministry said.

Finally, the government also shut down talk Muslims from other countries can not apply for citizenship. "CAA does not cancel naturalisation laws. Therefore, any person, including Muslim migrants from foreign countries, seeking to be an Indian citizen, can apply..."

If found eligible under the current laws, all such individuals will be given citizenship, the Home Ministry has said.

What Has Opposition Said?

Congress boss Mallikarjun Kharge has slammed the notification of the Citizenship Amendment Act, or CAA, as the BJP's "desperate attempt at divisive politics". Mr Kharge's party has also accused the BJP of trying to divide voters, particularly in Bengal and Assam.

The Congress has also pointed to the four-year delay in notifying the CAA, which was one of the BJP's biggest campaign promises ahead of the 2019 election, observing it was finally done just before the 2024 poll, when the saffron party can list it as a major achievement.

READ | "Designed To Polarise Elections": Opposition's CAA Attacks

"After seeking nine extensions for notification of the rules, timing, right before elections, is evidently designed to polarise... especially in West Bengal and Assam," Jairam Ramesh said.

Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee - one of the CAA's most vocal opponents - has alleged a conspiracy to "snatch away citizenship rights" and has cast doubt over the law's legality. The Trinamool leader rubbished the new law as "just lollipop and show-off".

READ | "Think Before You Apply", Mamata Banerjee's CAA Warning

"BJP says CAA gives you rights, but the moment you apply for citizenship you become 'illegal migrants' and will lose rights. You will be taken to detention camps," she said.

READ | Tamil Superstar Vijay Calls Citizenship Law CAA "Unacceptable"

Other senior opposition figures, including Tamil Nadu Chief Minister MK Stalin, have also hit out at the CAA, insisting, as in Mr Stalin's case, that it will not be implemented in their respective states.

READ | "No Benefits": MK Stalin Says 'No' To CAA  In Tamil Nadu

Significantly, in Tamil Nadu the AIADMK - a former ally with whom the BJP is trying to reconnect ahead of the Lok Sabha election - has also criticised the new law.

READ | "Huge Historical Blunder": AIADMK Opposes CAA Rules Notification

"The government has made a huge historical blunder. AIADMK will never allow this... I would like to inform you AIADMK will fight democratically with the people of the country against this," the party's General Secretary, Edappadi K Palaniswami, said.

The Aam Aadmi Party has also reacted, with Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal calling the decision "very dangerous" and demanding to know how the new citizens will get jobs.

"Youth are not being given employment by BJP government. Many people do not have houses but BJP wants to bring people from Pakistan and give them houses here," he said.

"There are approximately three crore minorities in these three countries. As soon as our doors open, huge crowds will come here. Even if 1.5 crore people come here, who will employ them? Where will they be settled? Why is BJP doing this?" he asked.

What Is The CAA?

The Citizenship Amendment Act fast-tracks citizenship for members of six communities - as listed above - who fled to India to avoid persecution in three Muslim-majority countries.

When it was proposed in 2019, the CAA triggered massive protests and sectarian violence across the country, in which scores were killed, including in New Delhi. Critics have said the CAA discriminates against Muslims and, taken with the NPR, or National Population Register, and NRC, or National Register of Citizens, could target minority communities.

The delay in implementation, the government has said, was due to the Covid pandemic, which struck in December 2020.

The protests included resolutions in various non-BJP states, including Tamil Nadu, Kerala, and Punjab, and several of these have now said it will not be implemented in their territories.