The Union Cabinet on Wednesday approved the contentious Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, with government strategists exuding confidence of ensuring its passage in both Houses of Parliament during the current session of Parliament. The Bill is likely to be come up for discussion next week. The session ends on December 13.
The Bill has created widespread resentment in the Northeastern states. The Congress, Trinamool Congress, and Left parties said the Bill is divisive, and that they would oppose it.
The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is busy reaching out to such the Asom Gana Parishad, the Biju Janata Dal, the YSR Congress Party and others to muster requisite numbers in the Rajya Sabha. It is unlikely to face any resistance in the Lok Sabha given the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance have a comfortable majority.
Its ally Janata Dal (United) is unlikely to support the Bill.
The Bill aims to provide citizenship to non-Muslim refugees from Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Afghanistan, has been opposed by several Opposition parties with Congress threatening to go to Supreme Court to challenge the proposed legislation.
At a briefing of the Cabinet meeting, Union minister Prakash Javadekar said the proposed legislation was in the interest of the nation. Since Friday, Home Minister Amit Shah has held several rounds of meetings with leaders of political parties, students’ bodies and civil society members from the Northeast to assuage their concerns.
Officials said the Inner Line Permit (ILP) regime areas and those regions which are governed under the Sixth Schedule of the Constitution will be excluded from the purview of the Bill.
In terms of Section 2 of the Bengal Eastern Frontier Regulations, 1873, the Inner Line Permit system is prevalent in Arunachal Pradesh, Mizoram and Nagaland. Citizens of other states require an ILP for visiting these three states.
Under the Sixth Schedule of the Constitution, autonomous councils and districts were created in tribal areas in Assam, Meghalaya and Tripura. The autonomous councils and districts enjoy certain executive and legislative powers.
Congress leader Shashi Tharoor said it violates the basic idea of India that religion can never be a reason for citizenship. “Those who believe that religion should determine nationhood... that was the idea of Pakistan, they created Pakistan. We have always argued that our idea of nation was what Mahatma Gandhi, Nehruji, Maulana Azad, Dr Ambedkar have said, that religion cannot determine nationhood,” he said.
Veteran Congress leader and three-time Assam Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi said the Congress will move the Supreme Court against the Bill which is “unconstitutional” and “divisive”, and violated the constitutional provision of equality for all.
“There cannot be division on basis of religion, caste or creed,” he tweeted.
The All India United Democratic Front has written a letter to Shah, requesting him not to introduce the Bill in Parliament as it is “against the interest of people of Assam and the country”.
Twelve MPs from the Northeast wrote a letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi last week saying civil society groups of the region are opposing the Bill.
The BJP’s alliance partner in Assam government, the Asom Gana Parishad (AGP) appear to be divided on the issue with its founding president and signatory to the Assam Accord Prafulla Kumar Mahanta opposing the Bill while the current chief and Agriculture Minister Atul Bora has come out in support.