NEW DELHI: Attacking the BJP over the Citizenship Amendment Bill in the Rajya Sabha, Congress leader Anand Sharma on Wednesday said the manifesto of any political party cannot be above the Constitution of the country.
Starting the debate in the Upper House of Parliament, the leader of opposition termed the controversial bill "divisive, discriminatory" and against the fundamentals of the Indian Constitution.
While replying to Union Home Minister Amit Shah who tabled the bill in the House, Sharma said that though it was part of BJP's 2019 manifesto, it cannot override the principles of the Indian Constitution.
"Every political party has a right to have its own manifesto. But the manifesto of any political party cannot be above the Constitution of this country," he said.
Sharma said there are provisions in the Constitution in Article 6 and many people have applied for citizenship.
Taking a dig at the home minister, the Congress leader said, "You are saying this is a historic bill, but how it will be evaluated in history, this you get to know later".
Sharma also highlighted the haste with which the government was bringing in the bill. Jaldbaaziu kyun (Why are you in a hurry). You should have referred it to a standing committee of Parliament and introduced in the next session," he said.
"We are opposing it and the reason for that is not political, but constitutional and moral.
I am convinced that the bill which you have brought is an assault on the foundational values of our Constitution," he said, adding that "it hurts the soul of Republic of India" and fails the "morality" test.
Terming it "divisive and discriminatory", Sharma said the citizenship amendment bill was against the preamble of the Constitution which talks about "liberty, equality and secularism".
Sharma said that for centuries India had granted asylum to displaced people. It granted asylum even after Independence to the people from countries like Sri Lanka, Uganda, but religion was never a criteria for it, he said.
"The reason is political and you know that there is already a provision to grant citizenship to those who are suffering," he said.
Sharma also opposed the allegation in the Lower House that his party was responsible for the division of the country in 1947.
He said it was the Hindu Mahasabha led by Vinayak Savarkar who first talked about the two-nation theory and division of India and a year later Muslim League also adopted it.
He also questioned the manner in which detention centres were created in Assam and said that it had created unrest in the entire state.
"Entire Assam is burning now. Students have again come on roads again and are agitating," he said, adding that now the government plans to have such detention centres across India and lands are being acquired for it.
Asking the government to follow the principles of Mahatama Gandhi, for whom everyone was equal, Sharma said, "Gandhi ji's spectacles are not only for advertisement. There is a need to see the entire nation through them (Gandhi ji ka chasma sirf advertisement ke liye nahi hai. Aapko is chasme se pure desh ko dekhana hoga)".
While participating in the debate, BJP leader JP Nadda said that the country was divided on religious lines and the essence of the bill was to protect minorities which were being persecuted in nations like Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan.
Reacting to the allegations that the bill was discriminatory towards minorities, he said, "When they are persecuted on the basis of their religion, then solution will be based on religion only".
Despite Nehru Liyakat Pact signed in 1950, minorities in Pakistan were persecuted on the basis of their religion, he said.
Nadda cited an old speech by former prime minister Manmohan Singh in the Upper House in 2003 over treatment of refugees in India.
Reading Singh's speech, Nadda said he had stated that minorities were persecuted in Bangladesh and had said to the then deputy prime minister L K Advani that it was the country's moral obligation to make the Citizens Act more liberal to help them.
"We have brought this bill respecting his words only (Singh)," said Nadda.
Home Minister Amit Shah on Wednesday moved the controversial Citizenship (Amendment) Bill in the Rajya Sabha, saying Indian Muslims "were, are and will remain Indian citizens".
Moving the bill that provides Indian citizenship to non-Muslim migrants from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan, Shah said minorities in the three nations do not get equal rights.
The population of minorities in these countries has reduced by as much as 20 per cent, either by way of elimination or because they migrated to India, he said, adding that these migrants did not get rights to jobs and education.
The bill provides citizenship to these persecuted minorities, Shah said.
The legislation, which allows citizenship for Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis, and Christians who illegally migrated to India from Afghanistan, Bangladesh, and Pakistan, was passed by Lok Sabha on Monday.