COLOMBO: With the Narendra Modi government reportedly planning to give Indian citizenship to illegal Hindu migrants from Bangladesh by August 15 this year, the case for giving Indian citizenship or dual citizenship to Sri Lankan Tamil refugees in Tamil Nadu will be strengthened, human rights activists here feel.
They point to the Modi government’s 2014 promise to give citizenship to non-Muslim Bangladeshis who had fled to Assam, and also the September 24, 2015 Central government notification which allowed illegal immigrants belonging to non-Muslim minority communities who had arrived in India on or before December 31, 2014, to stay put on humanitarian grounds. Eventual grant of citizenship was implied.
While such a notification could be issued under the Passport (Entry into India) Act of 1920 and the Foreigners’ Act of 1946, granting citizenship would need an amendment of the Citizenship Act of 1955 which needs a majority in the two houses of parliament. The criteria for citizenship would have to be changed.
In the case of the Sri Lankan Tamil refugees, Tamil nationalists, including DMK chief M.Karunanidhi, are demanding full Indian citizenship while Chief Minister J.Jayalalithaa is for granting dual citizenship. But acceding to the latter demand would mean fundamentally changing India’s citizenship law which does not permit dual nationality.
However, the process of changing the Citizenship Act is fraught with political difficulties. The Congress in Assam is opposed to the grant of citizenship to illegal immigrants irrespective of their religion. So are the ethnic Assamese organizations, the Asom Gana Parishad (AGP) and the All Assam Students Union (AASU). Both AGP and AASU had led a successful anti-foreigners, that is, anti-illegal Bangladeshi immigrants’ movement in the late 1970s and early 1980s.
The agitation culminated in the Assam Accord of 1985 by which all illegal immigrants from Bangladesh after March 24, 1971 should be detected and deported.
But as AASU said in a press release on Friday, the Centre’s notification of September 24, 2015 and the promise of citizenship by August 15 this year, are a gross violation of the Assam Accord. If the notification is not withdrawn by August 15, AASU is planning to start an agitation.
But Bengali Hindus in Assam are for the grant citizenship to the migrants, especially since Bangladesh is currently seeing a fresh wave of Islamic fundamentalist intolerance.