Parliament on Wednesday passed the contentious Citizenship (Amendment) Bill (CAB) amid widespread protests and incidents of violence against the proposed law in the Northeastern states, particularly Assam and Tripura.
In Assam, capital Guwahati was the epicentre of anti-CAB protests and was placed under indefinite curfew. The Army was also deployed in the city. Assam Rifles personnel were deployed in Tripura. Internet services have been suspended in 10 districts of Assam.
In a related development, Maharashtra cadre Indian Police Service officer Abdur Rahman quit the service over the “blatantly communal and unconstitutional” Bill.
The Rajya Sabha passed the Bill at 8:45 p.m., after a nearly nine-hour-long debate with 125 members voting in support of the Bill and 99 against. The current strength of the House is 240, with five vacancies.
Sources said 16 members absented from voting, including all three of the Shiv Sena and two out of the four of the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP). The Sena had voted in favour of the Bill in the Lok Sabha, which had passed it on Monday.
Police fire teargas shells to disperse protesters, in Guwahati, on Wednesday. PHOTO: PTI
It said it staged a walkout in the Rajya Sabha as the government did not give satisfactory replies to its queries on the Bill.
The next battle for the Bill, once it gets presidential assent, is set to be fought in the Supreme Court with several Opposition parties and legal experts claiming that it violates the Constitution, particularly Article 14.
BJP’s allies, especially the Shiromani Akali Dal, regional parties AIADMK, YSR Congress Party and Biju Janata Dal, supported the Bill. However, their members in their respective speeches voiced concerns similar to those expressed by Opposition members.
They questioned why migrants from Sri Lanka are not included in the Bill, and suggested that the Bill should not be discriminatory towards sects persecuted in Pakistan and Afghanistan, such as Shias and Ahmadiyyas. Later, the DMK, which voted against the Bill, accused the AIADMK of betraying Sri Lankan Tamils.
Replying to the debate, Union Home Minister Amit Shah claimed the Bill was not anti-Muslim and harked back to the Partition. He accused the Congress of speaking the language of Pakistan and its Prime Minister Imran Khan in opposing the Bill. This was met with loud protests from the members of the Congress.
The Opposition demanded the Bill be referred to a select committee of the Rajya Sabha and moved amendments to delete what they called discriminatory provisions, and bring “all religions” in its ambit as also as also all neighbouring countries and not only Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan. These motions were defeated.
Members of some of the regional parties of the Northeastern states supported the Bill, but also pointed to widespread violence in the region over misgivings about the Bill. They hoped the Centre would soon deliver on Shah’s assurances made to them.
Opposition MPs, including P Chidambaram, Kapil Sibal, Derek O’Brien and others, said the Bill was divisive, unconstitutional and part of the BJP’s Hindutva agenda. Chidambaram expressed confidence that the judiciary would strike down the law.
Shiv Sena’s Sanjay Raut said his party does not need a certificate of patriotism from anyone.
“We are the headmaster of the school where you study. Our school headmaster was Bal Thackeray and Atal (Bihari Vajpayee)ji and Syama Prasad Mookerjee. We believe in them,” he said. The Sena MPs walked out of the House a little before voting on the Bill.
Congress’ Ripun Bora marshalled emotion and facts to accuse the Modi government of misleading the country on the issue. To Shah’s claim that the Bill would help “lakhs and crores” of people, Bora pointed to several questions that he has asked to the government on Hindus who have infiltrated from Bangladesh since 2014. He said the reply he received was that no data was available.
He also pointed out the Intelligence Bureau and the Research and Analysis Wing (R&AW) told a parliamentary panel that the CAB could be misused as neighbouring countries could push their agents under the garb of religiously persecuted.
In a reply to another question about those facing religious persecution applying for citizenship since 2014, the government stated that only 4,444 applications have been received in the last five-and-a-half years.