The agitation against the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, the National Population Register and related matters, triggered largely by fears that the Centre will deprive millions of Muslim citizens of their citizenship, is one of the most bogus agitations that this writer has witnessed over the last 50 years. The CAA has nothing to do with Indian citizens. It only seeks to provide citizenship to a limited number of people who have been persecuted in India’s three Islamic neighbours. The premise on which the agitation is being carried on is completely baseless and indicative of the extent of mischief a bunch of malcontents can do when the electorate rejects their agenda.
More importantly, anyone who reads The Citizenship Act, 1955 (the whole Act and not just the 2019 amendment to it) will realise how water-tight the citizenship of a natural-born citizen (a citizen born on Indian soil) is under this Act and that in reality, no one has the power to take it away. Section 3 of the Citizenship Act, 1955, describes citizens of India “by birth”. It says: “Every person born in India (a) on or after the 26th of January, 1950 but before the first day of July, 1987; (b) on or after the first day of July, 1987 but before the commencement of the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, 2003 and either of whose parents is a citizen of India at the time of his birth; (c) on or after the commencement of the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, 2003 where (i) both his parents are citizens of India; or one of whose parents is a citizen of India and the other is not an illegal migrant at the time of his birth.”
As can be seen, probably 99% or more of the citizens of India fall in this category called “citizens by birth” and they belong to all religions—Hindus, Muslims, Christians, etc. Such citizens are also known as “natural-born” citizens. These citizens are distinct from naturalised citizens and indeed constitute the highest class of citizens (for example in the US, only a natural-born citizen can be the President). These citizens (this writer included) do not “apply” for citizenship. They become citizens with the first breath of life. They do not make an oath swearing allegiance to the Constitution of India as their every breath is deemed allegiance. They can give up their Indian citizenship but no power can deprive them of their citizenship. Among such citizens, those who commit rape and murder can be hanged for the offence, if the law so provides, but their citizenship cannot be snatched away. The Act does not provide for it. They will take their citizenship to the gallows. Such is the quality of this citizenship.
The Citizenship Act offers other categories of citizenship like Citizenship by Registration (Section 5) and Citizenship by Naturalisation (Section 6). These are basically for foreigners who wish to settle in India and seek Indian citizenship or persons of Indian origin living abroad who want to return to India and live as citizens in this country. There is another category—foreigners who marry Indian citizens and settle down in India. For example, Ms Sonia Gandhi, the interim president of the Congress, is an Italian expatriate who moved to India after her marriage to Rajiv Gandhi in 1968. Under Section 5, Indian citizenship can be granted to a person coming via the registration route. There is a similar provision under Section 6 for expatriates who apply for Indian citizenship through “naturalisation”. In both cases, citizenship is granted, subject to conditions and restrictions, and only after they make the oath of allegiance.
In Ms Gandhi’s case, as per the law at that time, she could have applied for Indian citizenship five years after marriage, but she did so after 15 years on 7 April 1983 and was granted citizenship on 30 April 1983. Despite being an Italian citizen in 1980, she illegally entered the electoral rolls that year and following a complaint, her name was deleted from the rolls. However, that is another story for another day. But how is all this relevant, one may ask. These facts are relevant because unlike natural-born citizens, the citizenship of a ‘naturalised’ citizen like her is extremely vulnerable and is subject to several conditions and restrictions. Further, if such a citizen violates any of those conditions, their citizenship can be cancelled. Section 10 of the Citizenship Act lists out the situations in which a citizen by naturalisation can be deprived of his or her citizenship.
It says that if the registration or certificate of naturalisation was obtained by “means of fraud, false representation or the concealment of a material fact; or that citizen has shown himself by act or speech to be disloyal or disaffected towards the Constitution of India as by law established; or that citizen has, during any war in which India may be engaged, unlawfully traded or communicated with an enemy ... ; or that citizen has been ordinarily resident out of India for a continuous period of seven years”, that person’s citizenship can be cancelled. Further, unlike citizens by birth, a naturalised citizen has to swear allegiance to the Constitution of India. It cannot be taken for granted.
Every Muslim citizen who is swayed by the anti-CAA argument must ask themselves the following questions, in order to know the quality of citizenship they enjoy: Did he/she ever “apply” for citizenship like Ms Gandhi? Was he/she ever asked to swear allegiance to our Constitution, like Ms Gandhi was?
So this is the power and quality of the citizenship of 99% of citizens under the Citizenship Act, 1955, but the Congress, after its decimation in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls, wants Muslims of India to believe that their citizenship is fragile. This is nothing but an attempt to spread falsehood and disaffection and could even be seen as an attempt to overthrow a duly elected government through guile and subterfuge. Proud natural-born citizens of India—Hindu, Muslim, Christian, Sikh, Jain, Buddhist, Parsi, Jew—must see through this game and disengage themselves from this campaign, which is dangerous for our democracy and for our constitutional well-being.
A SURYA PRAKASH Email: email@example.com
Vice-Chairman, Executive Council, Nehru Memorial Museum & Library