The bill thus amends the 1955 Act to grant exemptions to illegal migrants from these communities, who reached India on or before December 2014
125 votes in favour of the Bill, 105 votes against the Bill
NEW DELHI :
In a historic move, Parliament on Wednesday gave its assent to the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2019 as it passed the Rajya Sabha test even as violent public protests broke out in the north-eastern states of Assam and Tripura over opposition to the bill.
The controversial legislation, which has been fiercely resisted by opposition parties for being unconstitutional and discriminatory, will now need President Ram Nath Kovind’s assent for it to become law. The bill was approved by the Lok Sabha on Tuesday where the ruling National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government is in a majority.
During voting in the Rajya Sabha, 125 votes went in favour of the bill and 105 against it. Despite NDA being in a minority in the Upper House, the bill received support from friendly parties including the AIADMK, which has 11 MPs in the Rajya Sabha, while the Shiv Sena walked out before voting commenced.
“This bill is not to hurt anyone or person of any religion. There will be no injustice caused to the Muslims of our country. CAB will not hurt citizenship of Muslims. It is about granting citizenship and not taking away their citizenship," Union home minister Amit Shah said in the upper House.
In an apparent attempt to justify the intention of the bill, Shah said earlier in the day: “Should the Muslims of Pakistan be made citizens? Should Muslims from Bangladesh and Afghanistan and the rest of the world also be given citizenship? The country cannot run like this."
The bill aims to provide citizenship to “any person belonging to Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Jain, Parsi or Christian community from Afghanistan, Bangladesh or Pakistan, who entered into India on or before 31 December, 2014". The government has pitched it as citizenship for minority communities forced to seek shelter in India because of religious persecution or its fear in their home countries.
The debate in the Rajya Sabha, which lasted more than seven hours, largely focused on the opposition parties questioning the constitutional validity of the proposed amendments, reasons behind the choice of only three countries and the cut-off date, discrimination against Muslims, seeing the bill in conjunction to the proposed national rollout of the National Register of Citizens (NRC) and diluting the social ethos of the country.
“How do you group three countries and leave out the rest? How do you categorize six religious groups and leave out the rest? Why have you excluded Sri Lankan Hindus and Bhutanese Christians? And why only religious persecution… are people not persecuted on political and linguistic grounds?," senior Congress leader and former home minister P. Chidambaram said in the House. Senior Congress leader and deputy leader of opposition Anand Sharma said the opposition to the bill was not political but constitutional and ethical.
Among other opposition parties, Samajwadi Party’s Javed Ali Khan said NRC and the Citizenship Amendment Bill are discriminatory to Muslims, while K. Keshav Rao of the Telangana Rashtra Samithi said the bill challenges the idea of India. T.K. Rangarajan of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) said the joint parliamentary committee over the bill was a “farce".
“You are not appreciating inclusion of six communities including Parsis and Sikhs but are only talking about Muslims… When the country’s main religion is Islam, there are fewer chances of persecution of Muslims... But even so, if they want to apply for citizenship citing persecution, we have the provision to grant them citizenship too. Our definition of minority is not so narrow," Shah said in his concluding remarks.
The provisions of the amended bill are a drastic shift from those of the Citizenship Act of 1955 that labels a person an “illegal immigrant" if he or she has entered India without valid travel documents or has overstayed the date specified in the documents. The bill thus amends the 1955 Act to grant exemptions to illegal migrants from these communities.