Bill was not tabled for discussion in Rajya Sabha in wake of protests in the North-East
Most of NDA’s allies in the North-East threatened to walk out of the alliance if the bill is passed in RS
NEW DELHI :
Unsettled by growing dissent among members of the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) from the North-East, the government is likely to put the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill on the back burner.
“The NDA allies have suggested to the BJP (Bharatiya Janata Party) leadership that it should not push the bill in Rajya Sabha on Wednesday because of paucity of time for a detailed discussion in the Upper House," said a senior NDA leader who is aware of the development.
The problem for the BJP is that while the NDA is in power in seven of the eight states in the north-east, most of the alliance partners, including Meghalaya chief minister Conrad Sangma of the National People’s Party (NPP), have threatened to walkout of the alliance if the bill is passed in the Rajya Sabha. NDA suffered a setback in Assam after the Asom Gana Parishad walked out of the alliance in protest against the bill.
The north-east is crucial for the BJP-NDA combine because of the forthcoming general elections. The BJP won 8 out of the 25 Lok Sabha seats in the north-east in the 2014 Lok Sabha polls and the alliance is hopeful of improving its tally.
“There is possibly a rethink within the BJP on the bill because of the repeated protests from alliance partners in the north-east. The region is crucial for BJP-NDA," said a senior BJP Rajya Sabha leader.
The bill was listed to be moved in the Rajya Sabha on Tuesday but did not come up for discussion. Instead, the BJP which was adamant on seeing the bill through, is now back-pedalling, with the party repeatedly reassuring its alliance partners and various north-east groups on the bill.
The day saw widespread protests across the north-east, with a statewide bandh declared across Manipur and prohibitory orders imposed in parts of the state. Schools in Nagaland remained shut while protests were also witnessed in Tripura and Meghalaya.
“Political leaders from the north-eastern states including some chief ministers have met the (Union) home minister on various issues including the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill. Various provisions of the bill have been clarified to them. The central government has also apprised the representatives of north-eastern states of the steps that have been taken to preserve the cultural, social and linguistic identity and heritage of people of the north-east," minister of state for home affairs Kiren Rijiju said in response to a question in the Lok Sabha.
The opposition in the Rajya Sabha, during the recently concluded winter session, had objected to the proposed amendment in the bill, which excludes Muslims and minorities from Nepal and Sri Lanka from citizenship. Opposition parties are likely to push for the bill to be referred to a select committee before it is discussed in the Rajya Sabha.
While the Citizenship Act of 1955 labels a person an “illegal immigrant" if they have entered India without travel documents or overstayed the date specified in the travel documents, the bill, according to protesters, marks a drastic deviation from it.
The bill aims to provide Indian citizenship to those who were forced to seek shelter in India because of religious persecution or fear of persecution in their homeland—primarily Hindus, Sikhs, Jains, Buddhists, Parsis and Christians from Afghanistan, Pakistan and Bangladesh. The bill, which was passed by the Lok Sabha during the winter session, has led to widespread political backlash in Assam and caused unrest in the rest of the north-east, with Assamese organizations stating that if the bill is passed, the burden of illegal migrants will be passed on to the state alone.