NEW DELHI: Violent protests continue to rock the Northeastern states of India over the controversial Citizenship (Amendment) Bill. The Bill is likely to be tabled in the Rajya Sabha after January 31 and if the upper house clears it, almost all allies of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in the Northeast could withdraw support for the government.
The Citizenship (Amendment) Bill 2016, seeking to provide Indian citizenship to Hindus, Sikhs, Jains, Buddhists, Parsis and Christians from Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan, was passed by the Lok Sabha on January 8 amid protests. The Opposition had termed the proposed law “divisive” and “flawed”.
The Asom Gana Parishad (AGP), one of the three constituents of the BJP-led alliance in Assam, has already snapped ties with the BJP. Despite several assurances from the Centre, including Prime Minister Narendra Modi seeking to allay apprehensions, voices against the Bill continue to be raised.
“The burden of these persecuted migrants will be shared by the whole country. Assam and northeastern states alone would not have to bear the entire burden and the government is committed to providing all help to the state government and the people of Assam,” said Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh, earlier this week. He emphasised that the purpose of the Bill is to provide Indian citizenship to those who had been forced to seek shelter in India because of religious persecution or fear of persecution in their home countries.
Opposing the Bill in the Lok Sabha, Asaduddin Owaisi of AIMIM said, “You are giving citizenship on the basis of religion. You can’t run India like Israel. This government is making a mistake and will have to pay for it.”
CPI(M) MP Mohammad Salim raising his objections said, “If the country is being divided on the basis of language and religion, it will only tear the country apart. You want to victimise the Bengali Muslim.”
Apart from the Opposition, there were others who were not convinced by the government’s rationale. Nilanjan Mukhopadhyay, political analyst and author of Narendra Modi: The Man, The Times said the Bill is a “dreadful move” and is only substantiating Jinnah’s two-nation theory “we have been debunking since the 1940s.”
“The retrograde Bill only substantiates the fact that Pakistan is for Muslims and India is for Hindus. Not only this, it is making the BJP a liability in the Northeast region,” said Mukhopadhyay.
There is no exact figure on the number of minority refugees from Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan living in India, but officials put the figure at two lakh Hindu and Sikh refugees.
According to sources in the government, Pakistan had 3% Hindus among its population following the large-scale migration in the aftermath of the Partition.
However, this went down to just 1.2% (of the total population) by 1998. In Afghanistan, before the 1980s, Hindus and Sikhs totalled 2,20,000. However, in the past three decades, their number has dwindled to just 7,000. Hindus’ share in the population of Bangladesh (then East Pakistan) in 1951 was 22%, which according to the 2011 Census fell to 9%. The percentage of other smaller religious communities there has shown little change, with Buddhists down to 0.6% in 2011 from 0.7% in 1951 and Christians constant at 0.3%.