Hyderabad: The controversial Citizenship Amendment Bill was tabled in Parliament. Setting aside the criticism, the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) defends the move as implementation of its election manifesto. Its true BJP manifesto promised such a bill.

The massive mandate it received in 2019 elections cannot be construed as nation’s unequivocal endorsement of its controversial policy on citizenship. There is a inherent flaw in such a claim. Indian elections are not fought on serious issues.

Indian electorate among whom illiterate form a large chunk, hardly comprehend politically complex, constitutionally intricate issues like citizenship laws. More significantly, the issue of illegal foreign immigrants which this law aims to deal with is not an emotive issue in the country’s main land. It is certainly an issue in the border states especially North-East. Elections in India are not a referendum on any single issue, leave alone the citizenship Amendment Bill.

Therefore justification on the ground that it is simply implementing its election manifesto doesn’t hold water. In fact, the BJP’s allies in the North-East especially, the Asom Gana Parishad differs with the saffron party on the issue. The AGP just before the elections walked out of the National Democratic alliance (NDA) only to return immediately, thanks to deft political engineering by Amit Shah and Ram madhav who is BJP’s in- charge of North Eastern states.

The first political challenge to the bill will be in the form of simmering discontent in the sensitive border region of India’s North-East that has seen one of the worst insurgencies in the past. Any reopening of that chaotic chapter will be detrimental to national unity, integrity and sovereignty. At a time when the nation still grapples with uncertainties in Kashmir, it can ill afford another theatre of discontent and alienation.

Yet, why the BJP intends to bring about this bill despite opposition from its partners. The BJP is doubly sure that unlike last time, it can get Parliamentary nod as fragmented polity comes to its rescue in the upper house.

The confident looking Modi-Shah duo would not hesitate to push through such divisive political agenda as they know pretty well that the Congress led opposition is ideologically pusillanimous on the BJP’s Hindutva agenda The Citizenship Amendment Bill aims at granting Indian citizenship to the persecuted religious minorities from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan. Thus, the bill is a move to grant citizenship to non-Muslim illegal immigrants that include among Hindus, Christians, Buddhists, Jains, Sikhs and Parsis. It clearly excludes Muslims.

The BJP has its own set of arguments to defend this discriminatory or constitutionally violative bill. Firstly, the BJP argues that where will the persecuted Hindus go if the Hindu majority nation in the world, India refuses to grant them citizenship.

The second argument is that the Muslims are majority in Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan and they are not subjected any religious persecution to avail the special provisions for citizenship. But, the Muslims in Buddhist dominated Myanmar face one of the worst forms of religious persecution and human rights abuse.

The Citizenship Amendment Bill therefore does not aim at persecuted religious minorities in general but loaded with a discrimination against Muslims in particular.

The secular, libertarian Constitution of India does not allow such discriminatory treatment on the grounds of religion. It militates against the Article 14 of the Constitution that guarantees equality and Article 15 that prohibits discrimination on the grounds of religion.

The right to equality forms part of the basic structure of the constitution of India which even the Parliament cannot amend as enunciated by the Supreme Court in the famous, Keshavananda Bharati case.

India is a secular State and any discriminatory treatment to any religious group also goes contrary to the basic structure of constitution.

The political challenge is from the united opposition. The opposition parties including congress, the Left, the TMC, DMK, NCP SP, are clearly opposing the bill. The opposition is likely to wean away secular NDA partners like Janata Dal (United) and AIADMK.

The government may not have a smooth sailing in Rajyasabha. The stand of the regional parties like YSR Congress , TRS , TDP etc., will be interesting to watch. These parties unhesitantly supported Modi dispensation on controversial bills in the recent past. But, these regional allies may take a divergent position if not out of commitment to secularism but with an eye on Muslim vote.

However, given the Modi-Shah a deftness in pulling the political support in parliament by hook or crook, the bill may get Parliamentary approval. But, the serious political challenge to government will in the form of stiff resistance from the North-East especially in Assam. The people and the parties alike are opposed to granting citizenship to foreigners of all religious backgrounds as they say inflow of foreigners is seriously undermining their linguistic and cultural identity. In fact, the Assam movement is all about this resistance to foreigners flooding the North-Eastern states due to porus borders.

The cut of date in Citizenship Amendment Bill is December, 31, 2014 for regularising immigrants at least non-Muslims. This directly contradicts the Assam Accord of 1985 which stipulated March, 24, 1971 as cut-off date. The National Registrar of citizens (NRC) process was undertaken based on this cut-off date only. The government of India has already indicated its intention to undertake nationwide NRC along with repeating this excruciating exercise again in Assam.

Media reports indicate that there are as many as over a million Hindus were identified as illegal immigrants in the Assam NRC. This went against the BJP’s game plan of isolating and deporting illegal Muslim immigrants. Therefore, the BJP led NDA government decided to repeat the NRC along with bringing about the Citizenship Amendment Bill.

The people of Assam in particular and North-East in general fear that the combination of NRC and CAB will legitimize the entry of lakhs of non-Assami, non-Muslim immigrants. Such an eventuality would reverse the gains of Assam accord of 1985.

The Assam groups are also considering moving the Supreme Court on the unconstitutionality of CAB. The North-Eastern parties and groups including those part of NDA are also mulling agitation against the CAB driving the sensitive border region into another period of serious uncertainty and
disharmony.

However, certain safeguards are mooted to making CAB non-operative in Inner Line Permit areas and tribal regions that come under the sixth schedule of the Constitution. We will have to see how far such exemptions would succeed in assuaging the feelings of people of the North-East and Assam especially.

Prof K Nageshwar

Prof.K. Nageshwar is noted political analyst and columnist. He is a former member of the Telangana Legislative Council and currently a professor at the Department of Communication & Journalism, Osmania University, Hyderabad. He is the former editor of The Hans India. He was earlier the Editor-in-Chief of Telugu news channel HMTV. He was the founder chairman of 10TV. He is the author of the books Interpreting Contemporary India; How to win at life.

He served on the United Andhra Pradesh Legislative Council as an independent member from 2007 to till the bifurcation of the State in 2014 representing the Graduates' constituency of Hyderabad.

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