The Citizenship Amendment Bill (CAB), introduced in the Lok Sabha by Union Home Minister Amit Shah, aims at correcting the mistakes of the prolonged bureaucratic exercise that was the National Register of Citizens (NRC) in Assam, which ended with an anti-climax on 31 August. The outcome, leaving almost 20 lakh people, with a majority of them Hindus, surprised only those who still rely on the country’s beadledom, the factor other than socialism responsible for the laggard nature of India’s progress in over seven decades since Independence. Even where the problem did not lie with the wrong work ethic of clerks and inspectors, ultimately the absence of adequate identification documents in the possession of citizens with bona fides owed to the way credentials from the ration card to driving licence is handed to the people, one of which was needed to get the Aadhaar card, a much better managed system. For years before the rise of the Hindu right in the country, various leftist parties have supplied infiltrators with ration cards and voter ID cards with impunity — to cultivate their Islamic vote-bank — thus making even their Aadhaar cards unreliable. Without fixing these loopholes, the NRC was bound to be a botched-up operation. But now that the damage is done, a corrective must be in place, which the CAB is.
The CAB aims at, as is well known by now, retaining the Hindus, Buddhists, Jains, Sikhs and Parsis who fled persecution from the Islamic states of Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan, even if they have been excluded from the NRC. As Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Home Minister Shah have been telling the country from atop different political stages that the NRC would be replicated across the country, the CAB must work everywhere the bureaucracy goofs up. The opposition’s argument that the Constitution does not provide for religious discrimination and — to quote Shashi Tharoor — the passage of the bill would mark a moral victory of MA Jinnah over the principles of MK Gandhi is fallacious. For, neither the NRC that West Bengal is crying foul about nor the CAB discriminates against Muslims who are Indians. It is upon the INC-led opposition to explain why they are on the side of illegal immigrants. They must also spell out on what ground a Muslim would flee Pakistan, Afghanistan or Bangladesh, run officially on the tenets of Islam, if not to look for greener economic pastures in India (if we are lucky) or to execute nefarious terrorist designs (if we are not that fortunate).
Some clarification is due from the ruling BJP as well. If it is so concerned about Hindus, why do activists of the community have to raise hell before they drop the idea of deporting Hindus who have fled Pakistan and settled in decrepit camps in Rajasthan? This is not happening because Ashok Gehlot runs the State government now. Even during the Vasundhara Raje rule, then Minister of External Affairs Sushma Swaraj had to be moved to ensure the admission of a student from a refugee Maheshwari family in a medical college, failing which the poor girl’s career would have been doomed. Finally, Shah’s zeal about replication of the NRC across the country needs to be tempered as the apparatus that conducts this drill is dysfunctional. The CAB is certainly noble as well as logical, deserving wholesome support of the nation, except for a glitch. The authority has also said time and again that, as of now, there is no provision to kick out infiltrators once they are identified. For one, Bangladesh is not accepting India’s claim that the people of the former flock to the latter in hordes. So, what happens to an individual marked persona non grata? The world knows India will never have something like concentration camps, nor will that look good on us. That leaves us with the option of keeping millions of unwanted people not concentrated, yet not with the rights of citizens either. That would be as disreputable. These answers from the Modi government would be pending even as the CAB sails smoothly through the Lok Sabha but gets stuck in the Rajya Sabha, with the opposition demanding its reference to a parliamentary standing committee. Unless, of course, the government pulls it off like the abolition of triple talaq or the virtual abrogation of Article 370.