Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah have made history by pushing through the Citizenship Amendment Bill and the National Register of Citizens Bill within months of the abrogation of Article 370 and a favourable Supreme Court verdict on the Ram Temple. No government in history has achieved so much in redeeming the party's manifesto pledge in such a short time and in such quick sequence (within seven months of winning the people's mandate for a second term in office). Despite a wafer-thin majority in the Rajya Sabha, the BJP was able to carry through such controversial legislations only because of deft political manoeuvring and solid ideological arguments. By piloting such a difficult legislation with exceptional reasoning and presentation of logic, for both Article 370 and the CAB-NRC Bill, Amit Shah has proved his parliamentary debating skills and persuasive oratorical savvy which made even many opposition parties in the Rajya Sabha throw their weight behind the legislation.
Has the CAB violated the basic structure of the constitution as some opponents would argue? Is it violative of the Article 14, which offers equality before law to all citizens? Is it discriminatory to one minority community, i.e. Muslims? Why has it not addressed the refugee issues of Hindu Rohingyas from Myanmar and Tamils from Sri Lanka? These arguments are being advanced by the opponents of the Bill. But Amit Shah, while introducing the Bill and answering questions clause by clause in the debate on the Bill in both houses of parliament, convincingly answered all such apprehensions and possibilities.
He argued that the Bill should have been brought many decades ago, and it was the Congress that prevaricated. But for the partition of the country on religious grounds, which the Congress, agreed to, such a legislation would not have been necessary.
Amit Shah blamed the Congress for keeping the fate of persecuted refugees from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan hanging fire for seven decades and millions of people remained stateless and thus deprived of citizenship rights. The refugees from these countries had no voting rights, no job opportunities or right to own property or right to education because of the indecision on the part of previous governments. Thus, the Home Minister's case was that he was correcting a historic wrong.
The opposition has already challenged the Bill in an attempt to derail the efforts of the PM and Home Minister. But there was huge jubilation and vociferous celebration in scores of refugee camps across the country over the Bill being cleared in parliament.
Both the Prime Minister and the Home Minister have assured that the citizens of the country, irrespective of their religion, have nothing to fear. In their, case status quo will prevail. As for the Bill being in violation of the secular character of the constitution or basic quality before law, eminent jurists like Harish Salve and Aryama Sundaram have found great merit in Amit Shah's argument. The Bills are not going to open up the credentials of Indian citizens in any case. What is being done, as Amit Shah said, is to amend the Citizenship Act to extend facilities to Hindu, Christians, Parsi, Buddhist, Jain refugees from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan. These three countries are specifically mentioned as theocratic, and thus responsible for the migration of large number of minorities to India seeking asylum. The Bill does not addressing issues arising out of refugees from Myanmar and Sri Lanka because these countries are not bracketed as theocratic (it is the three declared Islamic states, responsible for sending the maximum number of persecuted minority population to India). Muslims are being excluded since they are not expected to face persecution in an Islamic state. Thus, migrants have been classified into two categories, refugees and infiltrators.
The government has made it clear that Muslims seeking political asylum from these Islamic countries will get their cases examined under the relevant provision for extending refugees status to citizens from other countries. However, this is not the case with lakhs of refugees from these Islamic countries who have been refusing to go back for years, fearing religious persecution and threat of forced conversion.
As for Article 14, which ensures equal treatment to all, the answer is that it applies to only citizens of India and not to refugees or infiltrators.
In fact, in the 1980s, the CPM and later, during the UPA regime, then Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh, also had expressed similar sentiments on the suppressed minorities from these countries. But now both the CPM and the Congress are opposing the Bill tooth and nail. As for the BJP, it was clear in its stance from the beginning. The NRC Bill was first introduced by the party in the 16th Lok Sabha, before the 2019 election, where it passed. The party in its election campaign for 2019 promised this would become a law. It negotiated with parties in the North East and brought them on board. Most parties from the region have supported the Bill. The BJP, along with its allies swept the 2019 Lok Sabha poll, despite the Bill pending in the House during the election. Thus, it is wrong to say that the BJP brought the Bill in a hurry or that it was cleared through any sort of backdoor.
The BJP has every reason to be satisfied despite some apprehensions in some quarters or misgivings in the Northeast, especially Assam, where an agitation is raging. Here, the issue of migrants from Bangladesh has created some concerns. Bengali Hindus and Bangla Muslims are being seen on an equal footing by the AGP. The agitators have targeted all migrants irrespective of their religion. This was a disputed issue between the BJP and AGP, though they were in alliance. The BJP wants the issue of Bengali Hindu refugees to be considered differently from that of infiltrators from Bangladesh. In West Bengal, this is an equally sensitive issue. The BJP has traditionally been seen as enjoying the support of the Bengali Hindu migrant population, which now has become a powerful vote bank both in Assam and West Bengal.
The party has been able to douse the fire in Tripura to a large extent. It has to work to assuage the fears of Assamese people of losing their ethnic identity. The task is all the more complicated because the BJP is in power in most North Eastern states.
The opposition is being accused of spreading rumour and fear-mongering. The joint opposition has also moved the Supreme court challenging the Bill. But the Court is unlikely to strike down the legislations as the NDA is only implementing the NRC order of the court, which it is also monitoring.
(Dr R. Balashankar is Member, BJP Central Committee on Training, and Committee on Publications and former Convener BJP National Intellectual Cell and former Editor Organiser.)
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