NEW DELHI: The contentious Citizenship Amendment Bill was cleared by the Rajya Sabha on Wednesday after a heated debate lasting nearly nine hours with Opposition members calling the Bill ‘anti-Constitutional’, ‘divisive’ and ‘anti-Muslim’ but the government insisting nobody should feel threatened as it is only meant to protect ‘persecuted minorities’ from three neighbouring countries.
The decision to make the Bill a law came after the Upper House rejected motions by Opposition leaders to send it to a select committee. The Opposition is now planning to challenge the Bill in the Supreme Court, with many of them even arguing it won’t stand judicial scrutiny. As protests raged in Assam and other parts of the Northeast, the Bill was passed with 125 voting in favour of the motion and 99 against it.
The Bill sailed through the Upper House, where the Centre is short of a majority, with the support of the BJD, YSRCP and the TDP. The Shiv Sena opposed the Bill in the Upper House but walked out at the time of voting. The Sena had voted in its favour in the Lok Sabha. Union Home Minister Amit Shah criticised the Sena’s U-turn, wondering if power makes people change overnight.
While Shah said the passage of the Bill would bring a new dawn for thousands of refugees, the Opposition said it would be a dark and long night for those left out. “We have included six religions. There is no appreciation. The only focus is on Muslims.... Are Muslims in Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan minorities? Will it be secularism only if Muslims are included? As per your definition, only if Muslims come, then it will be secularism,” Shah said, adding that in the past five years, over 500 Muslims have been accorded Indian citizenship.
Asserting that Muslims need not fear, Shah said: “This bill will not hurt the sentiments of any community. I want to assure the Muslims that there will be no injustice to them. This Bill is not about snatching anybody’s rights.” Several MPs from the Northeast, including from the BJP, highlighted the protests against the Bill and urged the government to allay the fears of the agitators. Ripun Bora, Congress MP from Assam, said the law would undermine the claim of Indian Hindus in his state. “Assam is burning. Northeast is burning. By the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, you are going to force our Indian Hindu people to become foreigners. This is only for political polarisation.”
Slamming the Bill, senior Congress leader P Chidamabaram said, “What we are doing here is wrecking the Constitution from within. Hopefully, the judiciary will strike it down and save India and the idea of India.” Trinamool MP Derek O’Brien compared the Bill to the laws passed in Nazi Germany and made an emotional appeal to the conscience of JD(U) and BJD members.
DMK’s Tiruchi Siva asked why the Centre had cherry-picked only three countries and ignored Hindu minorities in Bhutan, Myanmar and Sri Lanka. “There is a sense of apprehension among Muslims who are living under fear.” Calling it a sad day, BSP’s S C Mishra said the Bill was against the Preamble of the Constitution.