NEW DELHI: The introduction of a fresh version of the Citizenship Amendment Bill (CAB) will be the focus of the winter session of Parliament scheduled to begin from 18 November. Sources within the Bharatiya Janata Party and the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) have confirmed to The Sunday Guardian that the government has made up its mind to make sure that the bill is passed by both the Houses this time and becomes a law before the session ends on 13 December.
In the Rajya Sabha, the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) has 105 members, while in the Lok Sabha, it has close to 360 seats. BJP leaders are absolutely confident that the CAB will sail through both the Houses, considering the “ease” with which the “difficult” bills related to Jammu and Kashmir were passed in the two Houses.
A BJP leader said that with the passing of the CAB, Home Minister Amit Shah will have three “massive achievements” under his belt—abrogation of Article 370 in Jammu and Kashmir, ensuring that there is no law and order problem following the Ayodhya judgement and the CAB.
The CAB was introduced and passed by the previous Lok Sabha on 15 July 2016 after which it was referred to a Joint Parliamentary Committee (JPC) on 12 August 2016 and passed by the Lok Sabha on 8 January 2019. It, however, lapsed on 3 June 2019 after the term of the previous Lok Sabha ended and it was not passed by the Rajya Sabha on the last day of the budget session, 12 February 2019.
The CAB seeks to amend the Citizenship Act, 1955, and grant citizenship to “non-Muslim” immigrants belonging to Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Jain, Parsi and Christian communities from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan who have illegally migrated to India. The immigrants must have resided in India in the last one year and for at least six years in total to qualify for citizenship.
The BJP and the RSS believe that the electoral benefits it will get once the new provisions of CAB become a law would be huge in West Bengal and Delhi in particular.
As per the government’s own admission in front of the JPC, which was headed by BJP MP from Meerut, Rajendra Aggarwal, the total number of “persecuted persons” who have migrated to India was 31,313 among whom Hindus constituted the largest chunk, 25,447, followed by Sikhs at 5,807, Christians at 56, and Buddhists and Parsis numbering only two each.
As per UNHCR 2016 estimates, there were 109,000 Tibetan refugees, 65,700 Sri Lankan, 14,300 Rohingyas, 10,400 Afghan, 746 Somali and 918 other refugees who are registered with the agency in India, totalling around 2 lakh people.
However, the real benefit of the Citizenship Amendment Bill, once it becomes law, will be visible in West Bengal where the number of Hindu Bangladeshi immigrants, who will be covered under this law, is in lakhs. For example, the Matua community, a Hindu community that came to West Bengal from East Pakistan (as it was then) post 1970, wields massive influence in almost 60 Assembly seats of the state.
Once CAB becomes law, the BJP believes that the Matuas and voting segments similar to the Matuas will rally around the party in an “unprecedented way”.
The next step, sources said, will be to implement a nationwide National Register of Citizens (NRC) to identify “infiltrators”. The only “infiltrators” that will “remain” post CAB will be from the Muslim community.
“There is a lot of anger against the illegal Muslim migrants in West Bengal as they have taken over all the resources of the locals. Once CAB becomes a law and the NRC is implemented, these illegal infiltrators will be thrown out of the country. We are going to correct a wrong that was committed by successive governments,” a BJP functionary said.
The JPC of 30 MPs (20 Lok Sabha, 10 Rajya Sabha) that presented its report on 7 January 2019, went through 9,000 memoranda that it received, undertook study visits to Jodhpur, Ahmedabad, Rajkot, Guwahati, Silchar and Shillong to meet migrants, NGOs, public representatives and other stakeholders to obtain firsthand knowledge at the field level and held 14 sittings in all.
The JPC received concerns from several quarters that the Citizenship Amendment Bill may be struck down by the Supreme Court, since by mentioning minority communities, namely, Hindus, Sikhs, Jains, Parsis, and Christians, it was violating the Constitution because Article 14 clearly says that no person on Indian soil can be discriminated on grounds of religion.
However, the JPC was assured by multiple departments of the government that the bill would not violate the spirit of Article 14 as it upheld the test of reasonable classification as propounded by a seven-judge Bench of the Supreme Court in the “State of West Bengal vs Anwar Ali Sarkar” case.
The government also believes, as it told the JPC, that Article 25 of the Constitution, too, will not be violated because the proposed Amendment Bill does not in any way affect the right of any person to freely profess, practise and propagate any religion in the country.
The Department of Legal Affairs, too, clarified to the JPC that the “positive concept of equality does not postulate equal treatment of all persons without distinction but rather stresses on equality of treatment in equal circumstances”.