Citizenship Bill sails through Lok Sabha

Opposition to the Citizenship Amendment Bill notwithstanding, the BJP shepherded the Bill with ease in the Lok Sabha. After a daylong debate, it was put to vote close to midnight and passed with 311 ‘ayes’ and 90 ‘nays’.

Home Minister Amit Shah introduced the Bill, which proposes to grant Indian citizenship to non-Muslim refugees from three neighbouring countries Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan. Those who will be eligible for citizenship are people who migrated to India without valid travel documents or whose documents have expired.

The Bill grants relief only to refugees from six communities — Hindus, Christians, Sikhs, Jains, Buddhists and Parsis – on the grounds of religious persecution in Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh.

Shah introduced the legislation with key changes to appease the Bharatiya Janata Party-led government’s allies in the North Eastern states. The Home Minister said the Inner Line Permit will be extended to Manipur and reassured that the Bill ‘seeks to protect the constitutional guarantee given to indigenous populations of North Eastern States covered under the Sixth Schedule of the Constitution.’ Inner Line Permit is an official travel document allowing inward travel of an Indian citizen into a protected/restricted area for a limited period.

The Bill received unconditional support from Janata Dal (United), Lok Janshakti Party and conditional support from the Biju Janata Dal, YSRCP. TRS, Congress, Trinamool Congress, Samajwadi Party, DMK, IUML, AIUDF, Aam Aadmi Party, RJD, NCP, Left parties, BSP, AIMIM opposed it “tooth and nail”.

While the Shiv Sena’s mouthpiece Saamana published a scathing criticism of the Bill on Monday morning and the party punched holes in the arguments made by Shah on the floor of the House, it remained ambiguous in its support of the Bill. Vinayak Raut of Shiv Sena did not clearly state during his speech whether he was supporting the Bill or opposing it but when MPs from the Opposition benches asked him to announce his position, he told them they were backing it.

“For the security of the country, the government must restrict illegal immigrants,” Raut said during a discussion on the Bill that continued till late evening. “But I don’t have an answer yet on how many people from these three countries have come to India due to religious persecution. Let the refugees stay in the country for the next 15 years but don’t give them voting rights.” Several political parties including BJD and Shiv Sena demanded that refugees from Sri Lanka must also be included in the Bill.

AIMIM MP Asaduddin Owaisi called the Bill worse than ‘Hitler’s law’. “This is against the Constitution of India and disrespectful to those who got Independence of the country,” Owaisi alleged as he tore a copy of the Bill in the House.

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