Assam Finance Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma on Tuesday said that the issue of granting citizenship to Hindu refugees from Bangladesh and Pakistan can be resolved only through religion, not secularism. The statement came hours after Lok Sabha passed the bill, which many believe is against the "fundamental aspects of the Indian constitution".
The BJP leader maintained that his party isn't the first to take up the cause of Hindu refugees. "We have to adopt a religious line because the persecution of Hindus in neighbouring countries happens along religious lines. India has been siding with Hindus right from the days of Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru and Mahatma Gandhi. Our decision to reduce the period required to get citizenship from 12 to six years is in line with the commitment given by our founding fathers," Mr Sarma told NDTV.
The minister was responding to criticism that the BJP is bringing about an unconstitutional bill. Many activists believe that the very idea of granting citizenship in this manner amounts to dilution of the Assam Accord-1985, which clearly states that any immigrant who entered Assam illegally after 1971 should be deported irrespective of his/her religion.
Activist Samujjal Bhattacharjee said that the people's resentment at the move was clearly evident from protests witnessed in the region. "People from seven states spontaneously took part in the shutdown, sending a strong message that we won't accept political injustice and any move to protect illegal Bangladeshis," he added.
However, Mr Sarma claimed that the bill will help the BJP reap huge political dividends in the Northeast. "We will win 21 of the 25 seats in the region," he said.
The state minister had earlier said the bill would help ensure that Assam does not go into the hands of those who follow Pakistan founder Muhammad Ali Jinnah's ideology.
The Citizenship (Amendment) Bill-2016 passed in the Lok Sabha on Tuesday aims to amend the laws governing citizenship to grant Indian nationality to Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis and Christians fleeing religious persecution from neighbouring countries.
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