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Heated debate likely as Lok Sabha to vote today on citizenship bill | India News


NEW DELHI: Lok Sabha will on Monday debate and vote on the contentious Citizenship Amendment Bill, which seeks to profoundly alter how Indian citizenship will be determined by offering Indian nationality on grounds of “religious persecution” to Hindus and other minorities from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan.
The bill has sharply divided political and intellectual opinion, with Congress, TMC, Left, other ‘secular’ parties like DMK, SP, BSP and RJD as well as liberal commentators opposing religion being a criterion for pointedly excluding Muslims. On the other hand, BJP and right-wing opinion has drawn a distinction between a continuing process of non-Muslim population transfer since Partition and an illegal influx that threatens demographic and social balance.
The Citizenship Amendment Bill, which sets December 31, 2014, as the cut-off for eligibility for Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Christians, Jains and Parsis who arrived in India, is expected to cross the numerical hurdle not just in Lok Sabha where BJP enjoys a clear majority but even in Rajya Sabha where parties like BJD, AIADMK and a few others are expected to facilitate the legislation’s passage by a mix of support and abstentions.
The bill is expected to be voted in Lok Sabha on Monday and will be taken to the Upper House the following day. This will mark the successful completion of another major BJP-NDA agenda after passage of the bill to make triple talaq punishable and revocation of Jammu and Kashmir’s special status in the first session of the 16th Lok Sabha after PM Narendra Modi returned to office in May.
The CAB has far-reaching political and societal implications as the exercise of granting citizenship or confirming it in some cases is to be followed by an ambitious National Register of Indian Citizens (NRIC). At the centre of the project is an effort to correct what is seen as a flawed NRC exercise in Assam — where it will be conducted afresh — along with an all-India survey before the next general election in 2024.
The NRC in Assam revealed that minorities who left Bangladesh were excluded in large numbers and the absence of relevant documentation would mean they can end up as stateless. A similar situation, on a much larger scale, may pertain in West Bengal too if an NRIC is carried out. Political sources said the number of persons eligible under CAB would be around 6 lakh in Assam and many times that number in West Bengal.
An attempt to pass CAB in Modi 1.0 was abandoned in the face of adverse numbers in Rajya Sabha and vehement protests in the northeast. The protests have erupted again, but the government hopes to contain them with assurances that the Sixth Schedule of the Constitution and Inner Line Permits in north-eastern states — provisions that restrict residency rights — will assuage fears outside Assam that CAB may set off fresh internal migration within the region. The faultline runs deep in Assam as well, where a committee set up under Clause 6 of the Assam Accord is working on measures to protect Assamese language and cultural practices.
The Modi government intends to confirm the citizenship of this group, along with those who left Pakistan and Afghanistan, ahead of the NRC which would identify persons who arrived in India due to “economic reasons” as opposed to threat of persecution and discrimination due to religion. The government has argued that erasing this distinction will amount to accepting unlimited liability and encourage illegal migration with the hope that documents like voter IDs and Aadhaar can be acquired.
Congress and other opposition parties have criticised the bill, claiming that it is unconstitutional and harms India’s secular credentials. Congress, perhaps aware that the issue might find resonance with a wider section of the population, has called for a holistic approach to refugees while opposing NRC and CAB as majoritarian initiatives.
The legislation, even if passed by Parliament, is certain to face a legal challenge and its constitutionality will be tested in the Supreme Court. The process of implementing it will also be challenging, given the likelihood of a large number of claims.

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