Even as the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government was going to table the controversial Citizenship (Amendment) Bill of 2019 in the Lok Sabha on Monday, Shiv Sena, a hardcore Hindutwa outfit, denounced it as a bid to revive the pernicious “Two Nation” theory which was the basis of the vivisection of India in 1947 amidst unprecedented bloodshed and displacement of millions.
In a sharp editorial in the party organ “Saamana” the Shiv Sena accused the Narendra Modi government of attempting an “invisible partition” of Hindus and Muslims.
The Shiv Sena wondered if “selective acceptance” of Hindu illegal immigrants, excluding the Muslims, will act as a trigger for a “religious” war in India.
The formal and legal separation of Muslims and Hindus envisaged in the Citizenship Amendment Bill (CAB) smacked of the “Two Nation” theory propagated by the founding fathers of Pakistan to create a separate country for Indian Muslims.
Earlier, the Hyderabad-based All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen leader Asaduddin Owaisi had raised the issue of the revival of the Two Nation theory. “Bringing the CAB will dishonor our freedom fighters. As an Indian Muslim, I rejected MA Jinnah’s (Two-Nation) theory. Now you are making a law wherein, unfortunately, you will be reminding the nation of the Two-Nation theory,” Owaisi said.
“If implemented, the CAB will give citizenship on the basis of religion, which is against the principles of our Constitution. India will be in the league of Israel which is the most discriminatory country in the world,” he added.
Pointing out another discrepancy Owaisi said: “If the North-Eastern states will be exempted from the proposed CAB, then it will be a grave violation of Article 14 related to fundamental rights as you cannot have two laws on citizenship in one country.”
Many opposition leaders, including West Bengal Chief Minister and Trinamool Congress chief Mamata Banerjee and Congress leader Shashi Tharoor, have termed the amendment as discriminatory.
“If you give citizenship to all communities, we will accept it. But if you discriminate on the basis of religion, we will fight it,” Banerjee warned. Tharoor said the bill is “fundamentally unconstitutional which violates the basic idea of India”.
The Citizenship (Amendment) Bill seeks to amend a 1955 law to enable non-Muslim refugees from Muslim-majority Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan to become Indian citizens while leaving the Muslims out. The CAB envisages granting citizenship to Hindus, Buddhists, Christians, Parsees, Jains, Sikhs from the neighboring Muslim-majority countries who had come to India as refugees complaining of “religious persecution.”
The CAB has omitted Muslims as a whole though some Muslim sects like Shias and Ahmadiyas are persecuted in these largely Sunni Muslim countries. The Ahmadiyas are not even recognized as Muslims by the Sunnis.
According to the Citizenship Act of 1955 those seeking citizenship must have lived in India in the 12 months before their application, and for 11 years of the previous 14 years. But the CAB 2019 relaxes the second requirement from 11 to six years for non-Muslim applicants from the three neighboring countries. Here too there is an invidious religious distinction, smacking of Islamophobia as the new stipulation does not apply to Muslims.
The main objections against the CAB are that (1) it destroy one of the most fundamental features of the Indian constitution, which is equality between religious groups The CAB is at odds with the secular principle enshrined in the constitution as it excludes a particular community, namely the Muslims. It is a violation of Article 14 which guarantees the right to equality (2) it make nonsense of the basic idea of “Indian-hood” which transcends race, religion, caste, class and language (3) it revives the pernicious “Two Nation” theory propounded by the pre-independence Muslim League which demanded a separate country (Pakistan) for Indian Muslims on the ground that Hindus and Muslims are two different “nations” who cannot live together in the same country.
Fears in North East
In India’s North East, where illegal immigration from Bangladesh has been a problem for decades, CAB 2019 is being opposed tooth and nail.
The influential North East Students’ Organization has announced an 11-hour shutdown on Tuesday against what they believe is an attempt to tear down the Assam Accord of 1985, which had fixed March 24, 1971, as the cut-off date for deportation of all illegal immigrants irrespective of their religious background. The CAB on the contrary has a shorter cutoff date (six years) though that applies only to Hindus.
But the Assamese fear that the CAB this will allow lakhs of illegal Hindu immigrants from Bangladesh to stay on. The exercise to draw up a National Register of Citizens (NRC) for Assam had found that out of the 1.9 million illegal immigrants as many as a million were Bengali Hindus and only 400,000 were Bengali Muslims. CAB 2019 will enable the one million Hindus not included in the NRC to get Indian citizenship and stay on.
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 six years for non-Muslim applicants, and grants them immunity from government action pertaining to their illegal status. But to be included in NRC, the illegal immigrant would have show residence in Assam since March 25, 1971. The discrepancy makes nonsense of the NRC.
Given the weak opposition in parliament, and the absence of an explicit commitment to secularism even among non-Hindutwa parties, the bill will be passed in both Houses of parliament.
Defending the CAB, Defense Minister Rajnath Singh said that the three neighboring countries are Islamic nations and so, non-Muslims (and not Muslims) may be discriminated against or persecuted. Therefore, they may be forced to seek asylum in India, he argued.
This argument, besides being presumptuous, is pernicious because it casts aspersions on neighbors, who, barring Pakistan, have been friendly to India and have of late been trying to curb Islamic fundamentalism. Even Pakistan is trying to its live down its fundamentalist past by affirmative pro-Hindu, pro-Sikh and pro-Christian actions. It would, therefore, not be right to brand them as communal countries which routinely persecute the Hindus and other non-Muslim communities.
If the Muslim majorities in Bangladesh, Afghanistan and Pakistan are branded as communal and being unfair to the Hindus, these Muslim majorities may be motivated to link the Hindus amidst them as “Indians” with special links with India and with loyalty to India rather than to their motherland.
Having failed to win elections on economic performance because of lack of achievements in this field, the BJP and its Hindutwa allies will perforce have to stick to Hindutwa, its USP, and make the best of it regardless of the consequences to the country.
So far the “secular” opposition’s voice against the CAB (and NRC) has been weak because it does not want to alienate the majority Hindus or the Assamese majority in Assam. Therefore, the Congress and its allies may be passive spectators when the BJP and the Sangh Parivar push India down the chute.