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The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) led government at the centre is all set to introduce the controversial Citizenship Amendment Bill (CAB) in the Parliament on December 9. The existing Citizenship Act was enacted in 1955 which along with articles 5 to 11 of the Constitution of India determines Indian citizenship.

The original Citizenship Act of 1955 has been amended several times in the past but it had never attracted such media and public galore as it has received this time. It is intriguing to explore as to what makes the current CAB so controversial. Is there anything serious in the proposed CAB that Muslims should be worried about? How CAB is linked with the National Register of Citizens (NRC) which BJP is planning to carry out at the national level?

The government had first introduced the CAB in 2016 after 2014 general elections but due to lack of a requisite number in the upper house it could not get through that time. This time, however, the government seems to be visibly more confident after Parliament’s nod to the triple talaq bill and abrogation of Article 370 with support from crucial alliance partners like Janata Dal (United) and some regional parties like AIADMK, BJD, TRS, YSRCP and some Independents.

The main provision which has made CAB a controversial legislation is the promise to grant citizenship on the basis of religion. The proposed CAB seeks to grant citizenship to all Hindus, Buddhists, Sikhs, Christians, Jains and Parsis illegal migrants fleeing religious persecution from Muslim majority states of Bangladesh, Pakistan, and Afghanistan if they had entered India on or before December 31, 2014. The existing laws debar illegal migrants from applying for Indian citizenship.

The CAB, however, palpably excludes Muslim migrants of these countries from acquiring Indian citizenship even if they had suffered similar religious persecution. There is no clear answer from the government as to why the CAB discriminates against Muslims.

If anyone wishes to understand the true motives behind the CAB one have to view it against the backdrop of recently concluded National Register of Citizens (NRC) in Assam wherein at least 19 lakh people, mostly Hindus, have been excluded from the final list.

Upset with NRC’s final list, BJP’s Assam unit quickly rejected it. Its leader and Assam’s Finance Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma explained that his government had decided to reject it because it “included many who should not have been and excluded many who are genuine Indian citizens”.

The Assam NRC has exposed the BJP which has been falsely propagating that after the 1971 War a large number of Muslims, ranging between 4 million to 10 million, had illegally migrated to India from Bangladesh. This, according to BJP, has not only changed the demography of the some north eastern States particularly Assam but also seriously undermined the right of the local people over resources.

During the 2019 election campaign the Home Minister Amit Shah had even described the illegal immigrants as ‘termites’ who were eating the grain that should go to the poor, and are taking our jobs. Stoking the communal passion he also pledged that every single infiltrator from this country would be removed, except Buddhists, Hindus and Sikhs.

This narrative has helped the BJP to gain power in the region but the Assam NRC has come as a huge disappointment to the party. Its bogey of illegal Muslims infiltration has not only fallen flat but has even backfired. The party is now being blamed for this humanitarian catastrophe of making 19 lakh people as stateless.  The BJP is facing stiff resistance in the region both from within and from the opposition parties after the NRC in Assam.

Upset with the developments in Assam, the BJP now wants to correct its political folly through CAB which it thinks will prove as a twoedged sword. Through CAB, BJP wants to give citizenship to all Hindus illegal migrants who have been excluded from the Assam’s final NRC list but at the same time, it can easily exclude Muslims out of it. It will help boost BJP’s image of a party that cares Hindus not only living in the country but also outside the state.

The RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat had already announced that Hindus need not be apprehensive irrespective of whether their names feature in the NRC or not in Assam and elsewhere. The BJP president and the Home Minister, Amit Shah has also echoed the same view. Recently he stated that “I assure all Hindu, Buddhist, Sikh, Jain refugees they won’t have to leave the country, they will get Indian citizenship and enjoy all the rights of an Indian national.”

With the government’s proposal to conduct a nationwide NRC after CAB, Muslims seem to be worried. They fear that if their names are left out in this exercise, due to one reason or the other, they would eventually lose their citizenship but if non-Muslims are somewhat excluded they would always have a chance to get the citizenship back through proposed CAB.

While refuting the allegation of the opposition that the proposed CAB is communal legislation specifically targeting Muslims, the BJP has come out with the following arguments: Firstly, it claims that religion is not the basis of the grant of citizenship under CAB rather religious persecution. Secondly, BJP argues that while Muslims have many countries to seek refuge, Hindus have no other place to go except India. It further considers all Hindus as the natural citizens of India.

But it has no answer to the inclusion of Christians, Buddhists and Parsis as like Muslims they do have many alternative places to seek refuge. The rationale that BJP has given for the exclusion of Muslims from CAB is not only flawed and devoid of logic but also constitutionally impermissible and must be rejected in its present form.

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The writer is a Professor, Department of Political Science, Aligarh Muslim University, Aligarh.


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