Citizenship (Amendment) Bill: Does this subverts the Indian secularism?

The Citizenship (Amendment) Bill which was passed recently in the Lok Sabha could prove costly to the Bharatiya Janata Party in the coming general elections. The Bill proposes to amend the Citizenship Act of 1955 to grant citizenship to Hindus, Sikhs, Jains, Parsis, Buddhists, and Christians from the Muslim-majority countries of Bangladesh, Afghanistan, and Pakistan. These people become eligible for citizenship if they have lived for six years in these neighboring countries and only need to prove that they have suffered religious persecution in there. People who came to India before 31 December, 2014 are covered by the amendment.

In the name of protecting our own, the amendment introduces a religious dimension in the definition of Indian citizenship. Thus, it subverts the very idea of an egalitarian and secular nation that treats all religions as equal under the Constitution. People of the Northeast are afraid that the grant of citizenship would induce large numbers of Bengali Hindus from Bangladesh to settle in their states and socially and politically marginalize the indigenous communities of the region. As a result, there have been widespread agitations against the Bill. Assam, in particular, is witnessing large-scale demonstrations as it is the most affected by illegal immigration, especially from Bangladesh.

The 1985 Assam Accord promised the people of Assam that all illegal immigrants who entered the state after 24 March 1971 would be deported. The Bill undermines that consensus. The peace that prevailed in the Northeast was always fragile and tenuous. The sectarian instincts of the BJP in excluding Muslims from the protection of the state is becoming more conspicuous by the day. The party has never refrained from dividing people on religious grounds to enhance its electoral prospects. The BJP-led government at the Centre had denied refuge to Rohingya Muslims who were fleeing religious persecution in Burma. They made the so-called ‘threat to internal security’ an excuse for refusing shelter to these stateless Muslims. It is the proposed amendment, in fact, that could potentially jeopardise internal security and deepen social schisms.

It is also of cardinal importance to note here that West Bengal, more than any other state, is in the crosshairs of the BJP. Several commentators have pointed out that the BJP’s intention behind introducing the Bill was to reap electoral dividends as the champion of Bengali Hindus, a community now enlarged with new citizens. The party’s coming to power in Assam and Tripura gave a fillip to its confidence and it began to consider itself unstoppable.

The Asom Gana Parishad, a key ally of the saffron party in Assam, has withdrawn from the NDA coalition in protest. Reports suggest that several other small parties are likely to follow suit. The BJP should realise that playing with a match near a barrel of gunpowder can only mean one of two things – they’re incredibly brave or extremely foolish.

The Bill, which must rank as one of the most contentious pieces of legislation in India’s post-independence history, was tabled with the sole aim of securing political mileage. The loss of BJP in Chhattisgarh, Rajasthan, and Madhya Pradesh months before the Lok Sabha elections, has taken a toll on the party’s confidence. But what price will India have to pay for Mr Modi’s insecurities?

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Sounak Das
An avid reader who has still not found the answer to his conundrum - to write, or not to write?

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