A bill seeking to provide Indian citizenship to non-Muslims from Bangaldesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan was passed by the Lok Sabha yesterday.
Piloting the contentious Citizenship (Amendment) Bill 2019, Home Minister Rajnath Singh told the Opposition that the bill was not against the provisions of the Constitution and would give succour to persecuted minorities in the three neighbouring countries.
The bill provides for according Indian citizenship to the the Hindus, Jains, Christians, Sikhs, Buddhists and Parsis from Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan after six years of residence in India instead of 12 years currently even if they do not possess any document.
"They have no place to go to, except India," he said, adding several leaders including first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru were in favour of giving shelter to persecuted minorities in the neighouring countries. He said although Indian leaders signed pacts with leaders of Pakistan and Bangaladesh for protection of minorities but unfortunately it had not happened.
The Citizenship Bill, however, is turning out to be a major thaw in the BJP's equation with its allies in this part of the country. The issue appears to have disturbed many of its northeast allies, which may not be good for the saffron party, which is eyeing the vital 25 Lok Sabha seats from the seven sister states in the general elections this year.
CNBC-TV18 caught up with Prafulla Kumar Mahanta, former chief minister of Assam; Fuad Halim of CPI (M); Syed Zafar Islam of BJP; Sangeeta B Pisharoty, deputy editor of The Wire and Karishma Hasnat, Network 18 senior correspondent from Guwahati to discuss the implications of the bill.
Mahanta said, "In the new bill, the government has indicated that centre can conform citizenship to religious minority people of different countries, which will violate the provision of the Assam accord and the indigenous people of the state would become minority afterwards. Therefore, we have opposed the Citizenship Bill from the very beginning. Now, our party has decided to drop the alliance with BJP and our three ministers have submitted their resignations today."
Halim said, "All these issues the BJP is trying to push through parliament with an eye to the 2019 general elections is going to impact the people of India and their attitudes. There is going to be serious polarisation. This Citizenship Bill is going to be faced with serious reservations and people are going to organise themselves."
Islam said, "We are only working to safeguard the national interest and that is something which every citizen should support. Illegal immigrants cannot be allowed to stay here and have a claim on the resources of the country."
Pisharoty said, "It's a very complex and an old issue. Its roots goes back to the pre-partition days. Seeing 2019 general elections, government brought this bill in the Lok Sabha and was passed. The protest against the bill has been going on not just in Assam but in the entire north east for a long time as the migration issue is a very sensitive issue here. The social fabric of a multi ethnic states like Assam is going to be very badly affected by this."