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Union Cabinet clears contentious Citizenship (Amendment) Bill; set to be introduced in Parliament despite stiff opposition

The
contentiouscitizenship bill, which has created strong resentment
in the Northeastern states and is dubbed as “divisive” by
opposition, was cleared by the
Union
Cabinet on Wednesday and is set
to
be tabled
in
Parliament.

The Citizenship (Amendment) Bill or CAB, which aims
to provide citizenship
to non-Muslim refugees from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan, has been opposed by several
opposition parties with Congress threatening
to go
to Supreme Court
to challenge the proposed legislation.

At a briefing of the
cabinet meeting,
Union minister Prakash Javadekar said the government has taken care of the interests of everyone and “the interest of India”.

“People will welcome it as it is
in the interest of the nation,” he said when asked about the protests
in the Northeast.

The
Cabinet approval
to the bill came barely hours after
Union Home Minister Amit Shah completed his marathon interactions, spreading over three days, with leaders of political parties, students bodies and civil society members from the Northeast
to assuage their concerns.

Officials said the Inner Line Permit (ILP) regime areas and those regions which are governed under the Sixth Schedule of the Constitution are learnt
to have been excluded from the purview of the bill.

In terms of Section 2 of the Bengal Eastern Frontier Regulations, 1873, the Inner Line Permit system is prevalent
in Arunachal Pradesh, Mizoram and Nagaland. Citizens of other states require ILP for visiting these three states.

Under the Sixth Schedule of the Constitution, autonomous councils and districts were created
in tribal areas
in Assam, Meghalaya and Tripura. The autonomous councils and districts enjoy certain executive and legislative powers.

The Congress, Trinamool Congress, CPI-M and a few other political parties have been steadfastly opposing the bill, claiming that citizenship can’t
be given on the basis of religion.

Congress’s Shashi Tharoor said it violates the basic idea of India that religion can never
be a reason for citizenship.

“Those who believe that religion should determine nationhood… that was the idea of Pakistan, they created Pakistan. We have always argued that our idea of nation was what Mahatma Gandhi, Nehruji, Maulana Azad, Dr Ambedkar have said, that religion cannot determine nationhood,” he told reporters
in
Parliament premises.

Veteran Congress leader and three-time Assam Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi said the Congress will move the Supreme Court against the CAB which is “unconstitutional” and “divisive”.

“The Congress will move the SC because we believe that CAB is unconstitutional and against the spirit of secularism. It is divisive, and violates the constitutional provision – equality for all. There cannot
be division on basis of religion, caste or creed,” he said
in a tweet.

The All India United Democratic Front, has written a letter
to Shah, requesting him not
to introduce the CAB
in
Parliament as it is “against the interest of people of Assam and the country”.

Twelve MPs from the Northeast wrote a letter
to Prime Minister Narendra Modi last week saying civil society groups of the region are opposing the bill.

Despite facing serious
opposition, including from ally JD-U, the BJP has expressed its determination
to pass the bill.

Defence Minister Rajnath Singh on Tuesday had asked party MPs
to
be present
in large numbers
in
Parliament when the bill is tabled.

This bill is as important as the move
to nullify Article 370, he had said.

The draft legislation is expected
to sail through Lok Sabha, where the BJP has a majority, and is unlikely
to face serious hurdles
in Rajya Sabha as the saffron party has often managed the support of parties like the BJD, the TRS and the YSR Congress for its pet issues.

Granting citizenship
to “Hindus, Sikhs, Jains, Buddhists and Christians, escaping persecution” was an election promise of the BJP
in the 2014 and 2019 Lok Sabha polls. If passed by
Parliament, this will
be the first legislation under which nationality will
be granted on the basis of religion.

A large section of people and organisations
in the Northeast have opposed the bill, saying it will nullify the provisions of the Assam Accord of 1985, which fixed March 24, 1971 as the cut-off date for deportation of all illegal immigrants irrespective of religion.

The BJP-led NDA government had
introduced the bill
in its previous tenure and got the Lok Sabha’s approval. But it did not introduce it
in the Rajya Sabha, apparently due
to vehement protests
in the Northeast.

The bill lapsed following the dissolution of the last Lok Sabha.

According
to the earlier bill, those who came
to India on or before December 31, 2014, will benefit from the proposed legislation.

The government is believed
to have carried out certain changes
in the bill’s new avatar.

The BJP’s alliance partner
in Assam government, the Asom Gana Parishad (AGP) appear
to
be divided on the issue with its founding president and signatory
to the Assam Accord Prafulla Kumar Mahanta opposing the bill while the current chief and Agriculture Minister Atul Bora has come out
in support.

The ruling party’s third alliance partner and Bodoland People’s Front has also not opposed the bill as it is unlikely
to
be applicable
to the BTAD areas which is under the Sixth Schedule of the Constitution.

The influential All Assam Students’
Union (AASU), Asom Jatiyatabadi Yuba-Chatra Parishad (AJYCP), Krishak Mukti Sangram Samiti (KMSS), premier literary organisation Asam Sahitya Sabha (ASS) have announced agitation against the bill till it is withdrawn.

Source: Economic Times