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Citizenship Amendment Bill (CAB), 2016 first, then National Register of Citizens (NRC)

Ponthungo Odyuo writes, it appears that the BJP led NDA government is determined in sheltering ‘persecuted’ communities and it is under this rhetoric that it has been pushing for the CAB. However, under the veil, through this bill the BJP is trying to change the demography (especially of the Northeastern states) for its political goals,

Recently, the Assam Andolan Sangrami Manch had filed a petition against Amit Shah for his statement over the Citizenship Amendment Bill (CAB), 2016 and the National Register of Citizens (NRC). Shah, during election rallies in West Bengal had said that the CAB will come first, followed by the NRC. This statement has exposed the rationale behind the BJP government’s push to introduce the CAB. The contentious Citizenship Amendment Bill (CAB) 2016 was passed in the Lok Sabha on January 8, 2019. However it failed to pass in the Rajya Sabha, where the BJP govt doesn’t enjoy majority, and so the bill lapsed. The Bill seeks to amend the Citizenship Act of 1955 to provide citizenship by naturalization of Hindus, Christians, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains and Parsis immigrants, who have come before December 31, 2014, and are facing ‘persecution’ in Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan. Meanwhile in Assam, the process of updating the NRC is still going on. While the NRC tries to weed out illegal immigrants who have entered Assam after 24 March, 1971, the CAB tries to do just the opposite by extending the cutoff date to December 31, 2014. There seems to be reason behind Amit Shah’s statement and this two opposing initiatives of the BJP government.

The BJP is a strong proponent of the NRC (and it is determined to introduce it across the nation if elected again) based on its principle of 3Ds- Detection, Deletion and Deportation of illegal immigrants. The applications for NRC in Assam began in May 2015 and ended on August 31, 2015. According to the final draft, over 40 lakh people out of the total 3.29 crore applicants do not find their names in the NRC. Out of those excluded, half of it composes of Bengali-speaking Hindus. This is where Amit Shah’s statement makes sense and the two opposing initiatives correlate. When the CAB, 2016 was passed in the Lok Sabha in January 2019, Hemanta Biswa Sharma, BJP legislator from Assam, had said that the Prime Minister has ensured that 17 state assembly seats will never go to Badruddin Ajmal of All India United Democratic Front (AIUDF) or ‘Jinnah’. According to Sharma, there are 8 lakh Bengali Hindus who have come till December, 2014, out of which there are 5 lakh voters in these 17 constituencies. Passing the CAB before the NRC is completed will give citizenship status and hence voting rights to these excluded vote base. Also, passing the CAB will make sure that illegal immigrants belonging to certain religious communities get citizenship before the NRC is introduced nationwide in a phased manner. Sharma had also said that the Assam Accord (1985) will be violated but the people of Assam should never go to Jinnah. At face value, it appears that the BJP led NDA government is determined in sheltering ‘persecuted’ communities and it is under this rhetoric that it has been pushing for the CAB. However, under the veil, through this bill the BJP is trying to change the demography (especially of the Northeastern states) for its political goals, just as the TMC is patronizing Muslim immigrants in West Bengal. At the same time, it is ironic of the BJP, who vehemently oppose illegal immigration (which is one of its core agendas according to its manifesto), to be pushing for the CAB. If one were to argue that the CAB is not that of sectarian politics but that of a humanitarian initiative to shelter persecuted communities, the question on why Rohingya Muslims (who were also religiously persecuted) were deported back, arises. However, the inclusion of Christians, Parsis, Jains and Buddhists immigrants, though insignificant, gives the bill a secular character.

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