Citizenship Amendment Bill passed in Lok Sabha

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Aden - Yasmin Abdel Azim - Indian Home Minister Amit Shah Image Credit: AP

New Delhi: The Lok Sabha (India's lower parliament) a little past midnight on Monday passed the Citizenship Amendment Bill after a reply by Home Minister Amit Shah who said that the "historic legislation will liberate crores of refugees" who had come from Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh from adversities they have faced for decades.

The Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2019 was passed after division with 311 members voting in favour and 80 against. The bill will now go to the Rajya Sabha - the upper house.

The bill was supported by Shiv Sena, which is no longer with BJP, though its other allies in Maharashtra government - Congress and NCP - strongly opposed the bill. The over seven-hour debate saw participation from 48 members. The bill was introduced Monday morning and was passed past midnight. 

With Narendra Modi as Prime Minister, no citizen irrespective of religion needs to fear

- Amit Shah, during CAB debate in Lok Sabha

PM Modi

Prime Minister Narendra Modi expressed his delight over the passage of the bill.

"Delighted that the Lok Sabha has passed the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2019 after a rich and extensive debate. I thank the various MPs and parties that supported the Bill. This Bill is in line with India's centuries-old ethos of assimilation and belief in humanitarian values," PM Modi said in a tweet.

The Prime Minister also applauded Shah for "lucidly" explaining all aspects of the Bill.Shah said in his reply to the debate that there was no need to link the bill to National Register of Citizens. "We will bring NRC and bring it with clarity. There will be NRC. When NRC comes, all infiltrators will be identified," he said.

The debate

With opposition repeatedly talking to fear among Muslims, Shah said the government was committed to giving equal rights to all people.

"With Narendra Modi as Prime Minister, no citizen irrespective of religion needs to fear," he said.

Shah also took political digs at Congress and Trinamool Congress.

He said TMC member Abhishek Banerjee had referred to Rabindranath Tagore and Bankim Chandra Chatterjee and asked if they would have dreamt that it would require court intervention for immersion of Durga idols and "no Saraswati puja".

"Those who use infiltrators as their vote-bank, we will not let them succeed," he said.He said Nehru-Liaquat pact for proper treatment of minorities was not implemented by Pakistan.

"The mistake of Nehru-Liaquat agreement is being rectified by Modiji," he said.

Allaying apprehensions of opposition members, Shah said the bill was not related to Muslim citizens of the country.

He said the bill does not violate Article 14 of the constitution which provides for equality before the law as citizenship was being given to "a class" and not a religion.

"It is a reasonable classification," he said.

Shah said there was a need of bill because the country was divided on the basis of religion. "It is a reality. You have to accept it. Congress has t accept the historical fact," he said.

Referring to Congress as communal, Shah said he had not seen a party which allies with IUML in Kerala and with Shiv Sena in Maharashtra.

He said in 1947, 23 per cent of Pakistan population comprised of minorities but in 2011, the number came down to 3.7 per cent.

Shah said the number of the minority population and Bangladesh had also come down from 22 per cent to 7.8 per cent in 2011 and number of Hindus and Sikhs in Afghanistan had come down from about 2 lakh to 500.

"Where did these people go. Were they converted, came to India, were killed. What was the fault of these minorities? If they face atrocities, should India remain a mute spectator? We want they should live with respect," he said.

To opposition criticism that India was becoming a Hindu Rashtra under BJP, Shah said the proportion of the community's population had gone down from 84 per cent to 79 per cent and that of Muslims had gone up from 9.8 per cent in 1951 to 14.23 per cent.

"We have never discriminated on the basis of religion. It will not happen in future," he said.

He also said there was no need for refugee policy.

Answering a query posed to him during the debate, Shah said, "[Pakistan-administered Kashmir] is ours. The citizens are ours. We have kept 24 seats reserved," he said.

He said only "minorities" from Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh who have faced religious prosecution have been covered in the bill and Muslims in these Islamic countries were not minorities.

What about the Rohingyas?

He said Rohingyas will not be accepted as citizens of the country.

The bill makes Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis, Christians from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan, eligible for citizenship. It seeks to amend the Citizenship Act.

Shah said only Constitution was the dharma of the Modi government.

He said an attempt was being made to create a fear among the refugees that they will not get citizenship without ration cards. "There is a document or not, the eligible have to be made citizens," he said, adding that there will remain a difference between refugee and infiltrator.

He said the BJP-led government will not change Article 371 pertaining to the North East. Shah said the bill has nothing to do with Muslims who were citizens of India.

Committed to secularism

Earlier, moving the bill for passage, Shah said it was not targeting anyone and won't promote any injustice as BJP-led government was committed to secularism enshrined in the constitution and believes that there should be no discrimination against any citizen on the basis of religion.

He said the bill was for giving citizenship to religiously prosecuted minorities from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan.

He said unity in diversity was the strength of the country and tolerance was an attribute of the country.

"It is true that unity in diversity is a strong mantra to keep the country united. Tolerance is an attribute of the country. Never has this country invaded another country, it is 10,000 years old history. Our forces never went out. Tolerance is our quality.

He said the country has accepted change and it was a factor behind India being one of the oldest civilizations in the world.

"We accept change, make it part of our culture and move forward," he said.Shah said the constituent assembly had accepted India to a secular nation and "BJP and its allies respect it, accept it and are eager to take it forward".

"We all accept secularism. There should not be discrimination against anybody on the basis of religion, rights should not be curtailed. After the bill is passed, crores of people will be free from a difficult life and become Indian citizens with respect," he said.

Shah said the bill has not taken away rights of any Muslim and they can apply for citizenship under the relevant rules and due process will be followed.

He said there was a fear amongst minorities that they would be jailed if they even apply for citizenship.

"We have a provision that'll end all investigations against any minor as soon as that person gets citizenship of India. In this Bill, we're protecting the social and linguistic uniqueness of the North East people. Nobody needs to fear it," he said.

"Nagaland and Mizoram are protected by Inner Line Permit and it will continue to remain protected. Keeping in mind the feelings of Manipur, we're including them into the Inner Line Permit as well. Meghalaya is protected by the Sixth Schedule, and we're keeping the Sixth schedule of the ambit of the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill," Shah said.

The cut-off date for citizenship bill is December 31, 2014.

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