By P.K.Balachandran/Daily Express
The Citizenship Amendment Bill (CAB), which was passed by the Indian cabinet on December 4, and is to be presented in the Lok Sabha (Lower House of Parliament) in the coming week, will have far reaching consequences for the Indian polity both in constitutional and political terms.
It will overturn two things: (1) a fundamental feature of the Indian constitution which is secularism and (2) the basic conception of “Indian-hood”.
The CAB envisages grant of citizenship to Hindus, Buddhists, Christians, Parsees, Jains, Sikhs from the neighboring Muslim-majority countries (namely, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Bangladesh), 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.
The bill is at odds with the secular principle enshrined in the constitution as it excludes a particular community, namely the Muslims. According to its critics, the move is a violation of Article 14 which guarantees the right to equality.
The Citizenship Act 1955 says that 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 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.
Defending the CAB, Defense Minister Rajnath Singh has said that the three neighboring countries are Islamic nations and so, non-Muslims and not Muslims may be discriminated against or persecuted. These may be forced to seek asylum in India.
This, besides being presumptuous, is a pernicious argument as it casts aspersions on neighbors, who, barring Pakistan, have been friendly to India. It would not be right to brand them as communal countries which routinely persecute the Hindus and other non-Muslim countries.
If the Muslim majorities in Bangladesh, Afghanistan and Pakistan are branded as communal and being unfair to the Hindus, they might be motivated to link the Hindus among them as “Indians” with special link with India and loyalty towards India rather than their motherland.
Muslim Parties Oppose
The hardest hitting opposition to the CAB has expectedly come from the Muslim leaders. “India – No country for Muslims” tweeted the former Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti, now in detention for opposing the abolition of Art 370 and Art 35A relating to the autonomy to her Muslim-majority State.
The Hyderabad-based All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen leader Asaduddin Owaisi said, that if implemented, the CAB “will give citizenship on the basis of religion, which is against the principles of our Constitution. It will make India Israel.”
“The CAB shows that the BJP government wants to make India a religious country. 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 media reports are correct that 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 this country.”
Acceptance of Two-National Theory
Owaisi further said that adoption of CAB would mean accepting the “Two-Nation Theory” according to which Hindus and Muslims belong to different nations and cannot live together. That theory was proponed by the advocates of Pakistan like Mohamamd Ali Jinnah and was opposed by Indian freedom fighters who did not distinguish between Hindus and Muslims. They made free India secular.
“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.
Protests in Eastern India
There have been protests over the CAB in the North Eastern States like Assam, as people there are worried that it will encourage immigration from neighboring Bangladesh. Already, illegal immigration from Bangladesh is a big issue in these States, especially Assam.
A long-standing demand in Assam had led to the creation of a National Register of Citizens (NRC) for that State last year. The NRC led to the discovery of 1.9 million illegal Bangladeshi Muslim immigrants in Assam. But Hindus were also among them. So, people are now asking: “Will these Bangladeshi Hindus, whose number is substantial, be given citizenship under the CEB?”
The Meghalaya Democratic Alliance (MDA) government, an ally of the BJP, has opposed the bill. Calling the bill “dangerous,” the Meghalaya government said that they don’t agree with the idea of non-Muslims acquiring citizenship after six years of living in the country.
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. These may be forced to seek asylum in India.
Criticism of the bill from the non-Muslim opposition parties has not been sharp. This is because, with the successes of the BJP in elections, other parties are reluctant to play the Muslim card, though they count Muslims among their supporters.
For safety, they play what is called the “Soft Hindutwa” card. And these “Soft Hindutwa” category includes the Congress, the Telugu Desam Party, Biju Janata Dal, Janata Dal (United), and All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK). These parties have support among the Muslims, but their main support base is Hindu and has to be Hindu, as Hindus are more than 80% of the Indian population.
Congress leader Shashi Tharoor has said that the CAB is “unconstitutional” because it discriminates against a community, the Muslims, in a secular matter like citizenship. The Trinamool Congress leader Derek O’Brian has said that the CEB is a cheap election gimmick to corner Hindu communal votes.
Impact on Bangladesh
Many thinkers, if not politicians, are worried about the impact of the CAB and the NRC on Bangladesh and India-Bangladesh relations. Opponents of the NRC are asking if the 1.9 million illegal immigrants from Bangladesh as found out by the NRC process will be deported to Bangladesh. If so, Bangladesh will have to accept that they are Bangladeshi nationals. And this they will not do without documentary evidence.
Newspaper articles in Bangladesh say that manifest discrimination against and persecution of the so-called Bangladeshi Muslims in India due to the NRC and CAB, will result in counter discrimination against Hindus in Bangladesh who are a substantial section of the population there.
Such a development will hamper the ruling Awami League’s sincere efforts to make Bangladesh a secular country where all religious groups enjoy equal rights. The CAB may encourage Bangladeshi Hindus to migrate to India to look for better opportunities instead of serving their motherland – Bangladesh. Their loyalty to Bangladesh will be questioned by Muslims who are the majority community there. It will exacerbate communal tension.