The Lok Sabha on Tuesday passed the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill amid a walkout by several Opposition parties, including the Congress and Trinamool Congress. The Rajya Sabha is set to take up the Bill on Wednesday, which seeks to provide Indian citizenship to non-Muslims from Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan.
Home Minister Rajnath Singh, who piloted the Bill, said the proposed amendments in the law were not against the provisions of the Constitution and would provide succour to persecuted minorities in the three neighbouring countries.
Several opposition members, including those of the Trinamool Congress, Congress and Left parties, said the Bill was potentially divisive, and would push demographically sensitive Assam and West Bengal.
The Bill provides granting Indian citizenship to 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," the Home Minister said.
According to a PTI report from Agartala, at least seven persons were injured, some with gunshot wounds, on Tuesday in West Tripura district, about 15 km from the state capital, when police and paramilitary jawans resorted to lathicharge and opened fire in the air to disperse Citizenship Bill protesters. Protesters had blocked the Assam-Agartala National Highway, a senior police officer said.
As many as 70 organisations, led by Krishak Mukti Sangram Samiti (KMSS), began an indefinite "economic blockade" in Assam on Tuesday to protest the amendments to the Bill. They have also threatened to organise a statewide protest on Wednesday to protest the amendments to the Bill.
Large sections of people in Assam and other northeastern states have been protesting against the Bill, saying it will nullify the 1985 Assam Accord under which any foreign national, irrespective of religion, who had entered the state after March 24, 1971, should be deported.
The supporters of the 70 organisations said they would hold protests in front of offices and installations of Oil India Ltd and ONGC across the state. "Our aim is to prevent taking away oil, petroleum products, coal, forest products and limestone from the state," KMSS Adviser Akhil Gogoi said.
A PTI report quoted an unnamed Oil India official who said the company has appealed to the agitators to spare the sector since it is related to safety and hazardous materials, which needs constant supervising by experts.
"Also, 440 tea gardens run with our gas. PSU firms like BVFCL, NEEPCO and APL too get our gas. Digboi and NRL Refineries get crude from us. Therefore, the perception that all our products go out of the state is not correct. Most of our produce are consumed in the state itself and very little go out," the official said. The official said that if Oil India stops production, the power scenario of the state would worsen.
In the Lok Sabha, the Home Minister said leaders like former Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru and Manmohan Singh have backed such a provision in the past. "The burden of those persecuted migrants will be shared by the whole country. Assam alone should not have to bear the entire burden. The Government of India is committed to give all help to the State Government and people of Assam," Singh said.
The Asom Gana Parishad (AGP), a partner in the BJP-led Assam government, broke up with the BJP while the NDA allies, the Shiv Sena and the JD (U), have opposed this legislation. Mizoram and Meghalaya governments have opposed the Bill by adopting resolution against it in their respective cabinet meetings.
The Bill was originally introduced in 2016 and was later sent to the Joint Parliamentary Committee (JPC), which submitted its report on Monday. On the basis of the recommendations of the JPC, a fresh Bill was introduced on Tuesday.
The Congress said many states have opposed the Bill and it should be sent to a select committee. As the government did not heed to the demand, the Congress staged a walkout. Trinamool's Saugata Roy dubbed the Bill as "divisive" and "insidious" that goes against the basic tenets of the constitution. "This is the worst form of vote-bank politics," Roy said.
AIMIM's Asaduddin Owaisi said the Bill is a brainchild of people who continue to believe in the 'two nation theory'.