Bill seeks to grant citizenship to non-Muslim minorities, which critics say violates India’s secular constitution.
A controversial bill, which will grant citizenship to religious minorities from India’s neighbouring countries, is being debated in the lower House of Parliament Lok Sabha amid concerns it violates the spirit of the country’s secular constitution.
The Citizenship Amendment Bill (CAB) seeks to amend 1955 law to grant citizenship to Hindus, Buddhists, Jains, Christians, Sikhs and Parsis facing persecution in Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan but excludes Muslims.
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Shashi Tharoor, whose Congress party has decided to oppose the bill, called it a “fundamentally unconstitutional” piece of legislation.
The bill will easily be passed in the lower house where the BJP enjoys a majority but is short of numbers in the upper house Rajya Sabha. Any bill needs to be ratified by both houses of Parliament to become law.
The CAB was first introduced in 2016 by the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi but was withdrawn after an alliance partner withdrew support and protests flared in India’s remote and ethnically diverse northeast region.
Giving Indian citizenship to “Hindus, Jains, Buddhists and Sikhs escaping persecution” was part of the manifesto of the BJP ahead of a general election in May 2019 that the nationalist party swept.
Amid backlash, the BJP has promised to exclude parts of the northeast from the purview of the bill but that has failed to assuage fears in the region that has historically seen the arrival of undocumented immigrants.
An influential student group, North East Students’ Organisation, has announced an 11-hour shutdown on Tuesday against the proposed bill, while Assam-based All Assam Students’ Union has threatened to launch “vigorous mass agitation” against the bill.
Last month, India’s Minister of Home Affairs Amit Shah announced that his Hindu nationalist government will implement a nationwide count of citizens, amid concerns the exercise could be used to target Muslims.