In the Lok Sabha agenda for Monday, the Narendra Modi government has made its intentions clear by revealing the readiness of Home Minister Amit Shah to introduce the Citizenship Amendment Bill. With the support of allies and outside supporters like the BJD, the NDA government is all prepared to get the bill passed. Most of the opposition parties led by the INC have decided to protest against the present form of the Citizenship Amendment Bill, labelling it as “dangerous for the country”.
In a meeting with party strategists, INC president Sonia Gandhi pledged to oppose the bill in Parliament tomorrow.
In view of this battle between the government and the opposition over the Citizenship Amendment Bill, the political struggle in the Lok Sabha on Monday is a given. A glimpse of this ‘war’ to unfold in Parliament on Monday could be had from the statements from both sides on Sunday. Opposing the provisions of the bill, INC MP Shashi Tharoor said if the Citizenship Amendment Bill was passed in its current form, it will make MA Jinnah’s views prevail over MK Gandhi’s.
Home Minister Shah had stated on 1 October at a rally that the NDA government would ensure that nobody who is a Hindu but excluded from the final list of the National Citizens Register (NRC) in Assam would have to leave the country while “infiltrators” would not be allowed to stay in India. Shah had said so without mentioning the word “Muslim”.
Shah enjoys the full backing of none less than Prime Minister Modi who pushes the agenda even during his visits to West Bengal, where the State government is among the most trenchant opponents of the bill.
The home minister had delivered a similar speech in West Bengal.
Shah to face the argument of ‘religious discrimination’
Tharoor said that starting the process of granting citizenship on the basis of religion would mean that India would become a Hinduist version of Pakistan. The INC leader said that the BJP government was “targeting a community”.
In the Citizenship Amendment Bill, the government has provided for citizenship of India to followers of non-Islamic religions namely Hindus, Buddhists, Jains, Sikhs, Parsis and Christians who it says are “victims of religious discrimination and persecution” in Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh. The bill does not include the Muslim community.
All opposition parties, including the INC, say that the Constitution does not allow such discrimination on the basis of religion. However, BJP leader Ram Madhav has fully justified the government’s proposal to grant citizenship to the oppressed non-Muslim religious leaders of three countries. He said that India had always opened its doors to the oppressed minorities. “The government’s move to grant citizenship to the victims of violence and oppression from the six non-Muslim communities of these three countries is correct,” Ram Madhav said.
Madhav said, “In 1950, Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru’s government had passed a similar bill. It clearly excluded refugees from Pakistan, which included the then East Pakistan. He said that after the partition of the country on the basis of religion, it is India’s duty to provide protection and citizenship to the oppressed minorities in these countries.”
Sonia Gandhi held discussions with senior party leaders and strategists at 10 Janpath on Sunday to bolster the opposition’s efforts to push the government on the back foot on the citizenship bill. It was decided that the party would make it clear in Parliament that it was not against the bill but against the provision of discrimination on religious grounds.
The INC will also try to force amendments to the disputed provision of the bill.
Former CPI(M) general secretary Sitaram Yechury has made it clear that he would ask for an amendment to remove the “discriminatory” provision of the bill and his party would oppose the bill although the NDA and its supporting parties in the Lok Sabha have a near two-third majority.
The passage of the bill in the Lok Sabha is almost certain. The INC and other opposition parties will try to gather numbers in the Rajya Sabha and demand sending of the bill to a parliamentary standing committee.