The Curious Case of Citizenship Amendment Bill, 2019

On January 8, the Lok Sabha approved the Citizenship Amendment Bill that would grant Indian citizenship rights and residency to non-Muslim immigrants, igniting furore in the north-eastern region of India. Protestors across Assam, Tripura, Meghalaya, Nagaland, Mizoram and Manipur are demanding its withdrawal labelling it as legislation that will make northeast the refuge ground for non-Muslim migrants from Bangladesh and Myanmar.The controversial Citizenship (Amendment) Bill 2016, that still needs the ratification of the Rajyasabha, states “persons belonging to minority communities, namely, Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis and Christians from Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan…shall not be treated as illegal migrants… and such persons shall be eligible to apply for naturalisation.” This bill amends the 1955 Citizenship Act to grant permanent citizenship to people from these religious communities who entered India prior to 2014.The BJP government says that the bill aims to provide relief to people persecuted in their country, due to their religious identities and who cannot enter any other country but India. The proposal presumes Muslims cannot be troubled in Muslim dominated countries and excludes all Muslim immigrants. Therefore, people from Ahmadiya and Shia communities from Pakistan and Rohingyas from Myanmar, persecuted by extremists cannot seek refuge in India. The opposition parties are widely criticising for trying to make religion an eligibility criterion for Indian citizenship – an act that would alter the secular fabric of India.

Upholding India’s ‘Hindu identity’

Himanta Biswa Sarma, Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) main strategist for the northeast and finance minister of Assam said, “If this Bill is not passed, then Hindus in Assam will become a minority in just next five years. That will be advantageous to those elements who want Assam to be another Kashmir and a part of the uncertain phase there.” After the bill was passed in Lok Sabha, he argued that this decision will prevent Muslims from taking control of Assam’s 17 assembly seats and Badruddin Ajmal, the Muslim leader of the All India United Democratic Front (AIUDF), from becoming the chief minister.Prime Minister Narendra Modi also asserted that the bill wants to make India a Hindu nation that gives importance to the rights of Hindus irrespective of their citizenship. In an election rally at Assam’s Bengali-Hindu dominated region of Silchar, Modi said that the bill is an “atonement for the past mistakes of partition”. He further said that he believes blood relations are more important than the “colour of passports” and Bengali-speaking Hindus will be accepted by passing this bill.

North East India in Fear

The Asom Gana Parishad (AGP), a political ally of the BJP exited the BJP-led coalition in Assam over centre’s support on the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill 2016.  Meghalaya Chief Minister and National People’s Party (NPP) president Conard Sangma opines that the passage of the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2016 was an “unfortunate” development.The bill has raised fear among people in Assam and other North East Indian states. If enacted into law it will change the demography of Assam by legalising Hindus and other minorities from Bangladesh. It would negate Assam Accord of 1985 that talked of identifying all settlers from Bangladesh, who entered into Assam after March 24, 1971, through preparing an NRC (National Register of Citizens) and send them back as illegal migrants.

Hinduisation of India

The citizenship bill is the BJP’s ideological and political agenda to change India into a “Hindu homeland”. The BJP believes that India is synonymous with Hindus and everyone should be treated as latecomers or invaders who should be treated as guests. The party is using constitutional authority to say Hindus in other parts of the country that “Hindus will always come first”.If this bill is approved in the upper house, it will cause conflict and division in the northeast of India and the BJP will gain its Hindu vote base.

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