By M Burhanuddin Qasmi
The Citizenship (Amendment) Bill 2019 (CAB) is a trap set by the Bhartya Janta Party (BJP) to “Divide and Rule” India. The Bill is by all means against the interests of India. It is communally biased and clearly against the spirit of Indian’s secular democratic Constitution. The Preamble of our Constitution unequivocally laid down the foundation of our Nation which is secular and equal for all citizens as it states:
“WE, THE PEOPLE OF INDIA, having solemnly resolved to constitute India into a SOVEREIGN SOCIALIST SECULAR DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC and to secure to all its citizens: JUSTICE, social, economic and political; LIBERTY of thought, expression, belief, faith and worship; EQUALITY of status and of opportunity; and to promote among them all FRATERNITY assuring the dignity of the individual and the unity and integrity of the Nation.”
The CAB goes in clear contrast of Article 14 and 15 of the Indian Constitution which read:
“14. Equality before law: The State shall not deny to any person equality before the law or the equal protection of the laws within the territory of India.
“15. Prohibition of discrimination on grounds of religion, race, caste, sex or place of birth:
(1) The State shall not discriminate against any citizen on grounds only of religion, race, caste, sex, place of birth or any of them.
(2) No citizen shall, on grounds only of religion, race, caste, sex, place of birth or any of them, be subject to any disability, liability, restriction …”
What is CAB?
CAB or Citizenship (Amendment) Bill is a piece of new legislation proposed by the BJP-led Government of India in the Lok Sabha on July 19, 2016, amending the Citizenship Act of 1955. The Bill was passed in the Lok Sabha on 8 January 2019, after it was introduced by the then Home Minister Rajnath Singh. It was ought to be tabled in the Rajya Sabha and passed to be incorporated in the Principal Act. However, the Bill lapsed on 3 June 2019 as the term of the 16th Lok Sabha ended then and the BJP Government could not workout numbers to table it in the Upper House of the Parliament. The BJP came into power again for the 17th Lok Sabha following the general election result on 23 May 2019.
The Union Cabinet cleared the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill for Parliament on December 4, 2019 once again and the Bill was tabled in the Lok Sabha on December 9 2019 for the second time when Rajnath Singh is replaced by Amit Shah as Home Minister of India. The Bill will be easily passed in the Lok Sabha this time again as the number favours the ruling Party in the Lower House. However, it has to face the Rajya Sabha test for the first time soon, which can be a tougher one for the Bill to sail in the Upper House of Indian Parliament.
The CAB provides citizenship to the so-called refugees from religious communities, namely— Hindu, Jain, Buddhist, Sikh, Parsi or Christian, except Muslims, coming from Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan. The Bill also relaxes the requirement of residence in India from 11 years to 5 years only for these migrants. The Bill excludes all states under the 6th Schedule or inner-line border within the country.
The move has been justified by the ruling BJP stating protection of minority refugees from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan only and not surprisingly UN-designated refugees from Buddhist majority country – Myanmar, majority of them happen to be Muslims. However, there are refugees from other religious communities including Hindus from Myanmar. The Bill also does not speak anything about Tamil Hindu refugees from Buddhist Sri Lanka or persecuted refugees of any religion from Communist China – the duo are also nearest neighbours of India. Similarly, the Bill does not speak anything about atheist community from any of our neighbouring countries – though they might also be the suffering human too.
How is BJP’s Divisive Politics?
To keep the negative criticisms at bay and to cover its communal and biased faced in the Western capitals, the ruling party of India offered lollipops to them by including Christians and Buddhists in the CAB, whereas, the Party’s stand about Christianity and Buddhism is known to the world through its past track records and it is a commonsense knowledge that no Christian or Buddhist is coming to seek citizenship in India from Bangladesh, Pakistan or Afghanistan on the ground of “religious persecution” – the un-worded narrative in the CAB.
The ‘religious persecutions’ as state policy, in these three countries against any faith holder, is a fallacy, created by the BJP for political polarization in India. Astray cases of communal hatred, riots and even harassments against minority communities by majority community do exist in all countries of the world including Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan. India is one of the worst among them going by the recent statistics and incidences since 2014. Lynching of minority community members and Dalits, violence by the cow vigilantes, forced chanting of ‘Jai Shiri Ram’ and public humiliation of certain minority community people are just a few to name in India which have no counter parts in any of its neighbouring countries.
In the CAB, all except Muslims are taken on board. Muslims are singled out this time. The Christians, Buddhists, Sikhs and other minority groups in India have been offered solace in the Bill to remain silent against it even though it is in clear contrast of India’s secular and democratic values which are the soul of its Constitution. Next time, if any other minority group is singled out, Muslims along with rest of the groups may get some textual solaces in return. Single out and hunt at ease is the code of any divisive policy. The BJP is apparently mastering at it in one after the other strokes in India.
The CAB is actually a trap by BJP, set to win West Bengal in the upcoming assembly election in the state. The National Register for Citizenship (NRC) exercise in Assam was disastrous for the ruling Party. It has taken away communal issues from the Party for future politics and grossly backfired its interests because its vote bastion – Bengali Hindu immigrants are major victims of the Assam NRC. Much politicised target of the NRC exercise in Assam – Bengali Muslims, are missed from the line of fire this time.
The BJP plans by this Bill to appease Bengali Hindus in Assam, Tripura and West Bengal and play with them as long-time vote bank in entire Northeast. The Party is trying to gift Indian citizenship to all legal or illegal Bengali Hindus from Bangladesh under the tag of ‘refugees’ and consolidate their numbers in the region. The other two names of the countries or people from other religions are simply eye-wash tactics to shape the Bill good and polarized its vote bank in rest of India against Muslims.
Here the BJP has taken a calculative risk, it knows, it might lose Assam in the upcoming elections due to CAB but it thinks it may win West Bengal, a bigger and stronger state with linguistic divide between Assamese and Bengalis in Assam. It knows well that Assamese diaspora is very weak when compare with Bengali diaspora in India and worldwide. Therefore, for BJP it is a smart move to attract Bengalis and win West Bengal by all means in the upcoming assembly election in 2021.
The Assamese are Major Losers
The BJP-led government of India has also successfully divided the people of Northeast by exempting some states or some tribal areas within a state from the CAB. The tribal areas of Assam, Tripura and Meghalaya which are under the 6th Schedule and the state with the inner-line border like Mizoram and Arunachal Pradesh etc. are now completely barred from the CAB in its latest version. Obviously they have no reason to be worried or protest against the Bill as they did earlier in January 2019. Bado and Dimasa autonomous districts of Assam are also exempted thus any violent uprising against the Bill within Assam is smartly abated by the government.
The major losers here are the people of mainland Assam in the Northeast today, if the Bill is passed from Rajya Sabha too. They would drop the outcome of recently ended Assam NRC which was done following vigorous scrutiny, unexplainable pains and enormous sacrifices. They will also lose both Assam Agitation and Assam Accord benefits forever. The major demographic and social impact of the CAB will be on Assam as a state. Assamese linguistic dominance will be under serious challenges following the influx of thousands of people from Bangladesh as Bengali Hindu ‘refugees’.
There are major protests in Assam from all corners of the state but not united, which I think will not make much impact on the passing of the Bill anymore. All Assam Students Union (AASU) is a stronger force in Assam but now it cannot fight this battle alone on linguistic basis only. AASU’s own former leaders are now ruling Assam as BJP leaders, the situation is completely changed from 1985, is a fact for AASU to realize.
All India United Democratic Front (AIUDF) is the third strongest political force in Assam at present and the only political party opposing the Bill from Assam on constitutional grounds in the Assam Assembly as well as in the Parliament. However, solo go attitude of AIUDF will not work, rather, strong opposition from a Muslim-led political party will provide with more space for the BJP to manoeuvre and polarise its vote-banks, is also a fact, that AIUDF leadership should introspect. If these two and all other small groups, opposing the Bill are united, then only they may put up a strong front against the Bill and save Assam from negative politicking of the BJP.
Possible Impacts of CAB on India
Metro cities like Mumbai, Delhi and Bangalore etc., and of course Kolkata will have more impact of CAB as immigrants from Bangladesh and Pakistan will avail citizenship there as ‘refugees’. This Bill also can be a security threat for India because spies from enemy countries may avail citizenship and even may seek positions in important jobs in our country in guise of ‘refugees’. The states like Assam, West Bengal and Tripura will have serious impacts on overall functioning and in the demography after the CAB is passed.
A country with 1.37 billion populations and minus GDP rate, even down from its small and poorer neighbour Bangladesh, and with millions of job deficits in the market, is inviting more people from other countries as its citizens on communal grounds, is a commonsense guess by any man with proper sanity only. It is hard to understand as why non-BJP NDA partners are not opposing this Bill which goes utterly against the interests of India as well as its democratic and constitutional values.
It is notable that Muslims of India are not physically losing much here except some of those Bengali Muslims who are presently excluded from the NRC in Assam may suffer more. However, emotional down playing and obvious discrimination by the law makers will be a painful feeling for all 200 million Muslims being the citizens of India. It is an attack on their dignity and integrity which the Constitution of India had guaranteed them.
However, the major impact is going to be over India as a secular democratic country of the world. From here India is going to be changed forever, you like it or not.
The author is an Assamese native and editor of Eastern Crescent, Mumbai.