The Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2016, has led to protests in the North-East after its passage in the Lok Sabha last week. Opposition to the bill stems from fears that it will give legitimacy to illegal migrants in India. Mint decodes the controversy surrounding the bill.

What is the purpose of the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2016?

The Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2016 aims to provide citizenship to those who had been forced to seek shelter in India because of religious persecution or fear of persecution in their home countries. They are primarily Hindus, Sikhs, Jains, Buddhists, Parsis and Christians from Afghanistan, Pakistan and Bangladesh. This is a drastic change from the provisions of the Citizenship Act of 1955 that label a person an “illegal immigrant" if he or she has entered India without travel documents or has overstayed the date specified in the documents.

Why has the bill caused a controversy?

The citizenship amendment bill, which was passed by the Lok Sabha, has led to political backlash in Assam and caused unrest in the rest of the North-east, with protests by ethnic Assamese groups. Assamese organizations say that as a result of the bill the burden of illegal migrants will be passed on to the state alone. The bill drew flak from opposition parties in the Rajya Sabha for excluding Muslims from countries such as Nepal and Sri Lanka. These parties are likely to push for the citizenship amendment bill to be referred to a select committee before it is discussed in the Rajya Sabha.

What does the centre say?

The centre says the amendment is for migrants who came through the eastern and western borders and are staying in India. The burden will be shared by the entire country, with the centre willing to help to implement it.

Is it at cross-purposes with the National Register of Citizens (NRC)?

NRC was updated under the Citizenship Act to wean out illegal immigrants from Bangladesh and other countries. The legacy data—the collective list of the NRC data of 1951 and the electoral rolls till 24 March 1971—is being analysed to update NRC. The amendment paves the way for non-Muslim minorities who came to Assam from Bangladesh between 1 January 1966 and 24 March 1974 to get citizenship. This negates the NRC exercise, say ethnic Assamese groups and regional parties.

Is the amendment bill a pre-electoral sop?

The Trinamool Congress accused the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) of being “anti-Bengali" after the final draft NRC was published in July last year. To counter the allegation, BJP has decided to highlight the bill in its Lok Sabha poll campaign in West Bengal to garner support from Hindu refugees, who came to the state from Bangladesh. The centre is also trying to woo the ethnic Assamese by promising to look into the Assam Accord of 1985 to ensure that their linguistic and cultural identity will be safeguarded.

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