After a walkout by the main opposition Congress Party, the contentious constitution amendment bill seeking to give Indian citizenship to non-Muslims from Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan was passed by the Lok Sabha (LS) yesterday.
Piloting the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill 2019, Home Minister Rajnath Singh told the opposition that the bill was not against the provisions of the constitution and would give shelter and succour to persecuted religious minorities from the three neighbouring countries.
The bill provides for conferring citizenship to Hindus, Jains, Christians, Sikhs, Buddhists and Parsis from Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan after six years of their stay in India instead of 12 years at present even if they do not possess any document.
"They have no place to go to, except India," Singh said, adding several leaders, including first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, had favoured giving shelter to persecuted minorities in the neighbouring countries.
He said although Indian leaders signed pacts with leaders of Bangladesh and Pakistan for protection of minorities but unfortunately it had not happened.
Even former prime minister Manmohan Singh while speaking as leader of opposition in the Rajya Sabha had asked the then BJP-led government to be more liberal in dealing with the issue of persecuted minorities in Bangladesh, the home minister said.
Rejecting the opposition parties' contention that bill sought to discriminate people on the basis of religion, Singh said "anyone eligible under the provisions under the law will be accorded citizenship".
Seeking to assuage the widespread concerns among tribal and ethnic groups in the northeastern parts of India, which saw an 11-hour shutdown yesterday against the bill, Singh said the proposed law will not be Assam-specific but applicable to other parts of India.
"The burden of those persecuted migrants will be shared by the whole country. Assam alone would not have to bear the entire burden. Government of India is committed to giving all help to the state Government and people of Assam," he said.
The passage of the bill in Lok Sabha came a day after its Assam ally Asom Gana Parishad (AGP) quit the BJP-led Assam government, protesting against the law while saffron party's other allies Shiv Sena and Janata Dal (United) have also opposed this legislation.
Mizoram and Meghalaya governments have opposed the bill by adopting resolution against it in their respective cabinet meetings.
The bill now goes to the Rajya Sabha where the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance lacks majority. Since it is a constitution amendment bill, it requires the approval of both Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha. The winter session of Rajya Sabha ends today.
Singh said Hindus, Jains, Christians, Sikhs, Buddhists and Parsis were earlier given protection against legal action in 2015 and 2016.
"Long term visa provision was made for them. The Amendment Bill will make these persecuted migrants eligible to apply for citizenship," he said.
The bill was originally introduced in 2016 and was later sent to a Joint Parliamentary Committee (JPC) which submitted its report on Monday. On the basis of the recommendations of the JPC, a fresh bill was introduced in Lok Sabha yesterday.
The Congress said many states have opposed the bill and it should be sent to a parliamentary select committee. As the government did not heed to the demand, the Congress staged a walkout.
Trinamool Congress lawmaker Saugata Roy dubbed the bill as "divisive" and "insidious" that goes against the basic tenets of the constitution. "This is the worst form of vote-bank politics," he said.