The Citizenship (Amendment Bill), 2019 won parliamentary approval after the Rajya Sabha on Wednesday passed the controversial bill that opposition parties and other critics say undermines India's secular constitution by granting citizenship to non-Muslim minorities from three neighbouring countries.
Opposition parties, minority groups, academics and a US federal panel have contested the proposed law, which would for the first time provide a legal route to Indian citizenship based on religion, calling it discriminatory against Muslims.
The bill seeks to give citizenship to Buddhists, Christians, Hindus, Jains, Parsis and Sikhs, who fled Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan before 2015.
Replying to a six-and-a-half-hour debate on the bill, Home Minister Amit Shah said the legislation seeks to provide citizenship to persecuted minorities in the three countries and not take away the citizenship of anyone. He rejected the Opposition charge that the bill was against Muslims and said they have nothing to fear.
The Bill was passed with 125 votes in favour and 105 against it. Besides BJP, its allies such as JD-U and SAD, the legislation was supported by AIADMK, BJD, TDP and YSR-Congress.Earlier the House rejected motions to send the bill to a select committee of the House with 124 members voting against it as compared to 99 in its favour.
The House also rejected several amendments moved by opposition members to the bill, most by voice vote.
The Bill was passed by Lok Sabha on Monday. It will now go to the President for his assent.
On why persecuted minorities from countries such as Sri Lanka were not part of the legislation, Shah said Tamils from the island country had been given Indian citizenship in past and the present law is to tackle a specific problem
To repeated questions from the opposition of Muslims being left out, he said Muslims from other countries have the right to apply for Indian citizenship as per existing rules. As many as 566 Muslims have been given citizenship, he said.
He attacked opposition the Congress saying statements by the party's leaders match those of Pakistani leaders on not just the citizenship bill but also on scrapping of Article 370.
Asserting that neither the citizenship bill nor the previously passed legislation making the practice of triple talaq punishable and the scrapping Article 370 are anti-Muslim, he said the present legislation is to give citizenship and does not to take away the citizenship of anyone.
Indian Muslims are citizens of the country and will remain so, he said. "Citizenship of Indian Muslims is not being taken away." "Citizenship bill is not to snatch anyone's Indian citizenship. Muslims have no need to fear or worry," he said.
Shah said the bill seeks to correct the wrong done by the partition of the country on religious lines. He went on to attack the Congress for alleged doublespeak on the issue, saying the party had during its rule given Indian citizenship to 13,000 Hindus and Sikhs from Pakistan without raising a word about the same for other communities.
He also said the bill does not violate Article 14 of the Constitution as it does not prohibit laws based on reasonable classification. Muslims have not been included for giving citizenship because the proposed law is for persecuted minorities in the three countries, he said.
The Shiv Sena staged a walkout ahead of voting on the contentious Citizenship Amendment Bill in Rajya Sabha, citing unsatisfactory response to the queries raised by the party.
Justifying the move, seen as a U-turn after the party voted in favour of the bill in Lok Sabha on Monday, Shiv Sena MP Sanjay Raut said the government did not give satisfactory answers to the concerns raised by the party.
Opposition parties accused the government of bringing in an "arbitrary executive fiat" to push its Hindutva agenda and warned that the proposed law will be struck down by the judiciary.
Protests against the bill turned violent on Wednesday in the North East, with the army deploying troops in Tripura state and putting reinforcements on standby in neighbouring Assam, where police battled thousands of protesters. Police in Assam's main city of Guwahati used water cannons and tear gas as they clashed with protesters, who had blocked roads with flaming tyres.
Congress president Sonia Gandhi said the passage of the Citizenship Amendment Bill marks a "dark day" in the constitutional history of India and a "victory of narrow-minded and bigoted forces" over the country's pluralism.
In a statement, she also reiterated Congress' determination to be relentless in its struggle against what she alleged was the BJP's "dangerously divisive and polarising agenda".
"The Bill fundamentally challenges the idea of India that our forefathers fought for and, in its place, creates a disturbed, distorted and divided India where religion will become a determinant of nationhood," she said.
(With inputs from PTI)