By all reckoning, the bill is against the interests of India.
M. Burhanuddin Qasmi | Caravan Daily
THE Citizenship (Amendment) Bill 2019 (CAB) is a trap set by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) to “Divide and Rule” India. By all reckoning, the bill is against the interests of India. Communally biased, its provisions are against the spirit of India’s secular democratic traditions and its Constitution. The Preamble of the Constitution unequivocally laid down the foundations of this, which is secular and treats all citizens on an equal footing. It states:
“We, the people of India, having solemnly resolved to constitute India into a sovereign socialist secular democratic republic, and to secure to all its citizens: JUSTICE, social, economic and political; LIBERTY of thought, expression, belief, faith and worship; EQUALITY of status and of opportunity; and to promote among them all FRATERNITY, assuring the dignity of the individual and the unity and integrity of the Nation.”
The CAB provisions are a clear violation of Article 14 and 15 of the Constitution, which read: “14. Equality before law: The State shall not deny to any person equality before the law or the equal protection of the laws within the territory of India. 15. Prohibition of discrimination on grounds of religion, race, caste, sex or place of birth: (1) The State shall not discriminate against any citizen on grounds only of religion, race, caste, sex, place of birth or any of them. (2) No citizen shall, on grounds only of religion, race, caste, sex, place of birth or any of them, be subject to any disability, liability, restriction …”
What is CAB?
CAB or Citizenship (Amendment) Bill is a piece of new legislation proposed by the BJP-led Government in the Lok Sabha on July 19, 2016, amending the Citizenship Act of 1955. The bill had been passed in the Lok Sabha on 8 January 2019, after it was introduced by the then Home Minister Rajnath Singh. It ought to be tabled in the Rajya Sabha and passed, in order to be incorporated in the Principal Act. However, the Bill lapsed on 3 June 2019 as the term of the 16th Lok Sabha ended by then and the BJP government could not organise sufficient numbers to table and pass it in the upper house of the Parliament. The BJP came into power again in the 17th Lok Sabha following the general election results of 23 May 2019.
The Union Cabinet gave its nod to the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill for Parliament on December 4, 2019 once again and the bill was tabled in the Lok Sabha on December 9, 2019 for the second time, by Amit Shah as home minister. The bill, however, passed in the Lok Sabha this time again as the number favours the ruling party in the lower house. However, it has to face the Rajya Sabha test. It would be tougher for the bill to sail through in the upper house as the BJP and its allies do not have the strength to pass it.
The CAB provides citizenship to the so-called refugees from religious communities, namely— Hindu, Jain, Buddhist, Sikh, Parsi and Christian, the only exception being Muslims who came to India from Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan. The bill also relaxes the requirement of residence in India from 11 years to five years only for these non-Muslim migrants. The bill excludes all states under the 6th Schedule or the inner-line border within the country.
The move has been justified by the ruling BJP by saying the government was giving protection to minority refugees from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan only and not surprisingly UN-designated refugees from Buddhist majority country – Myanmar — the majority of them being Muslims. However, there are refugees from other religious communities including Hindus from Myanmar. The bill also does not mention anything about Tamil Hindu refugees from Buddhist Sri Lanka or persecuted refugees of any religion from Communist China – though these two are also nearest neighbours of India. Similarly, the bill does not speak anything about the atheist community from any of the neighbouring countries – this, though they might also be the suffering human too.
BJP’s divisive politics
To keep the negative criticisms at bay and to cover its communal and biased face in the Western world, the ruling party here offered lollipops to them by including Christians and Buddhists in the CAB. At the same time, the party’s stand about Christianity and Buddhism is known to the world through its past track- records; and it is common knowledge that no Christian or Buddhist is coming to seek citizenship in India from Bangladesh, Pakistan or Afghanistan on the ground of “religious persecution” – the un-worded narrative in the CAB.
The view of ‘religious persecutions’ as state policy in these three countries against any faith holder is no more than a fallacy of the BJP for political polarization in India. Stray cases of communal hatred, riots and even harassments against minority communities by the majority community do exist in all countries of the world including Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan. India is one of the worst among them, going by the recent statistics and incidents since 2014. Lynching of minority community members and Dalits, violence by cow vigilantes, forced chanting of ‘Jai Shiri Ram’ and public humiliation of certain minority community members are just a few to name in India, while there are no such reports of harassment based on religion in any of the neighbouring countries.
In the CAB, all except Muslims are taken on board. Muslims are singled out this time. The Christians, the Buddhists, the Sikhs and other minority groups in India have been offered solace in the bill to remain silent even though the government step in Parliament is a violation of India’s secular and democratic traditions upheld by the Constitution. Next time, if any other minority group is singled out, Muslims along with the rest of the groups may get some textual solace in return. ‘Single out and hunt at ease’ is the code of any divisive policy. The BJP is apparently mastering it in iterations of strokes in India.
The CAB is actually a trap by the BJP, set to win West Bengal in the upcoming assembly elections in the state. The National Register of Citizens (NRC) exercise in Assam was disastrous for the ruling party. It has taken away communal issues from the party for future politics and its interests were hurt because its vote bastion – the Bengali Hindu migrants — turned out to be the major victims of the Assam NRC. The much politicised target of the NRC exercise in Assam, namely the Bengali Muslims, missed out from the line of fire this time.
By coming up with the CAB, the BJP plans to appease the Bengali Hindus in Assam, Tripura and West Bengal and use them as a long-time vote bank for the party in entire Northeast. The party is trying to gift Indian citizenship to all legal or illegal Hindus from Bangladesh under the tag of ‘refugees’ and consolidate their numbers in the region. The names of two other countries or people from other religions are simply an eye-wash and the aim is to polarise the BJP’s vote bank in the rest of India against Muslims.
Here the BJP has taken a calculated risk. It knows it might lose Assam in the upcoming elections due to CAB, but it thinks it might be able to win West Bengal, a bigger and stronger state. It knows well that the Assamese diaspora is very weak when compared with the Bengali diaspora within India and worldwide. Therefore, for the BJP, this is a smart move to attract Bengalis and win the polls in West Bengal by all means in the assembly election in 2021.
The Assamese are major Losers
The BJP-led government in Delhi has also successfully divided the people of the Northeast by exempting some states or some tribal areas within a state from the CAB. The tribal areas of Assam, Tripura and Meghalaya which are under the 6th Schedule and the states with the inner-line border like Mizoram and Arunachal Pradesh etc are now completely barred from the CAB in its latest version. Obviously they have no reason to be worried or protest against the bill as they did in January 2019. The Bado and Dimasa autonomous districts of Assam are also exempted thus. Hence, any violent uprising against the bill within Assam is smartly averted by the central government.
If the bill is passed in Rajya Sabha too, it would become law. The major losers will be the people of the mainland Assam in the Northeast today. They would not benefit from the outcome of the recently ended Assam NRC which was done following vigorous scrutiny, unexplainable pains and enormous sacrifices. They will also lose the benefits of both the Assam Agitation and the Assam Accord forever.
The major demographic and social impact of the CAB will be on Assam as a state. Assamese linguistic dominance will be under serious challenge following the influx of thousands of people from Bangladesh as Bengali Hindu ‘refugees’. There are major protests in Assam from all corners of the state, but not in a united manner. Such protests, I think, will not make much impact on the passing of the bill anymore. The All Assam Students Union (AASU) is a stronger force in Assam but now it cannot fight this battle alone on linguistic basis only. The AASU’s own former leaders are now ruling Assam as BJP leaders. The situation has completely changed from 1985, and this is a fact for the AASU to be mindful of.
The All India United Democratic Front (AIUDF) is the third strongest political force in Assam at present and the only political party opposing the bill from Assam on constitutional grounds in the Assam assembly as well as in Parliament. However, the “going it alone” attitude of the AIUDF will not work. Rather, strong opposition from a Muslim-led political party will provide more elbowroom for the BJP to manoeuvre and polarise its vote-banks. It is also a fact that the AIUDF leadership should introspect. If these two and all other small groups opposing the Bill are united, then only they may be able to put up a strong front against the bill and save Assam from the negative moves of the BJP.
Possible Impacts of CAB on India
Metro cities like Mumbai, Delhi and Bangalore etc, and of course Kolkata will have more impact of CAB, as immigrants from Bangladesh and Pakistan will avail citizenship there as ‘refugees’. This bill also can be a security threat to India because spies from enemy countries may avail citizenship and even get into important jobs here in guise of refugees-turned citizens. The states like Assam, West Bengal and Tripura will have serious impacts on overall functioning and in the demography as well, after the CAB is passed.
A country with 1.37 billion population and a minus GDP rate, even down from its small and poorer neighbour Bangladesh, and with millions of jobs lost in the market due to recessionary trends, is inviting more people from other countries as its citizens on communal grounds. This is troublesome. It is hard to understand why the non-BJP NDA partners are not opposing this bill which goes utterly against the interests of India as well as its democratic and Constitutional values.
It is notable that the Muslims of India are not physically losing much here, other than some of the Bengali Muslims who are currently excluded from the NRC in Assam. They may suffer more. However, acts like emotional downplaying and obvious discrimination by the lawmakers will be painful for all the 200 million Muslim citizens of India. It is an attack on their dignity and integrity which the Constitution of India had guaranteed them. However, the major impact is going to be on the image of India as a secular democratic country. From here on, India is going to be changed forever, you like it or not.
(The author is director of Markazul Ma’arif Education and Research Centre (MMERC), Mumbai and editor of Eastern Crescent, English monthly.)