Diabolic game against the Citizenship Act
This morning I had gone to my barber’s shop owned by a Muslim. He, along with his colleagues, appeared quite agitated over the newly amended Citizenship Act. I asked him what was in the Act he was opposed to. How did the Amendment affect him? “I do not know, Sir. But my uncle, who is a Congress activist, says that we Muslims will have no voting rights. Even I saw Ravish Kumar in NDTV Hindi saying Modi has done this deliberately to denigrate the Muslims”. It was nice of my barber that he got convinced and felt assured when I explained what the Act was and that it did not have anything that an Indian Muslim should be afraid of.
The point I am making is that the nationwide protests against the Citizenship Act that we are witnessing are devoid of any merits. These protests are doubtlessly orchestrated, and that too predominantly in Muslim-majority areas, including universities, by vested interests with clear mischief in mind. In the following paragraphs let me describe the comments of leaders of two opposition parties – the Congress and CPM – that, among others, are at the forefront of these protests. The readers may draw their own conclusions as to the double-standards these political parties have on the issue.
Let me begin with none other than former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. As the Leader of opposition in Rajya Sabha in 2003, Singh asked for a “liberal approach to granting citizenship to minorities, who are facing persecution, in neighbouring countries such as Bangladesh and Pakistan”. The latest Citizenship Amendment Act has precisely done that. Singh had said, “While I am on this subject, Madam, I would like to say something, about the treatment of refugees. After the partition of our country, the minorities in countries like Bangladesh, have faced persecution, and it is our moral obligation that if circumstances force people, these unfortunate people, to seek refuge in our country, our approach to granting citizenship to these unfortunate persons should be more liberal.”
Senior BJP leader LK Advani, then Deputy Prime Minister and Home Minister, was seated in the government benches that time. Pointing at him, Singh added, “I sincerely hope that the honourable Deputy Prime Minister will bear this in mind in charting out the future course of action with regard to the Citizenship Act.”
Let me now go another “Big” leader Prakash Karat, who was General Secretary of the CPM not long ago. He, in fact, was disappointed that what Dr. Manmohan Singh had demanded as the Leader of the Opposition was not implemented by him as the Prime Minister by changing the Citizenship Act. He wrote a letter, dated June 03, 2012 to Prime Minister Singh [available in People’s Democracy, the Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist), Vol. XXXVI, No. 22], and titled “On Bengali Refugees”. And here is the text of that letter: “THIS is to draw your attention to the citizenship problems of the large number of refugees from erstwhile East Bengal and then even after the formation of Bangladesh who had to flee their country in particular historical circumstances over which they had no control. Their situation is different from those who have come to India due to economic reasons. While we advocate a humane approach to all sections, on the specific issue of citizenship we share the opinion you had strongly advocated as leader of the opposition when it was debated in parliament in 2003.
“You will kindly recall that under the NDA government the Citizenship Amendment Bill, 2003 was placed which did not differentiate between the different sections that would be affected by the Bill. At that time you had stated ‘… with regard to the treatment of refugees after the partition of our country, the minorities in countries like Bangladesh, have faced persecution, and it is our moral obligation, that if circumstances force people, these unfortunate people, to seek refuge in our country, approach to granting citizenship to these unfortunate persons should be more liberal. I sincerely hope that the Hon’ble Deputy Prime Minister bears this in mind in charting out the future course of action.’
“In response to your appeal, the then Deputy Prime Minister L K Advani had said ‘what the leader of the opposition has said, I am fully in agreement with the views expressed…’ This should have been followed with a suitable amendment to Clause 2(i) (b) of the Citizenship Amendment Act 2003 in relation to the minority community refugees from Bangladesh. However, in spite of the consensus on the floor of the House, this was not done. For nearly a decade the matter has been pending. In the meanwhile, the insecurity felt by the refugees is heightened since in the present drive of Aadhar they are excluded and considered illegal migrants facing the constant threat of deportation. Lakhs of families are affected, the majority of them from Scheduled Caste communities like namashudra, pondra khatriya, majhi etc.
“I request you to consider the issue and take the steps which you consider are necessary, including the amendment to the law referred to, so as to bring relief to these unfortunate families, living across India.”
The present amended Citizenship Act allows exactly eligibility for Indian citizenship to illegal migrants who are Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis and Christians from Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan, and who entered India on or before 31 December 2014. The bill does not include Muslims as it is essentially for the persecuted religious minorities in the three countries of Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan where their numbers have shrunk drastically over the years because of forced marriages of their girls and conversions. These three countries are also the ones where the official religion happens to be Islam. Immediate beneficiaries of the Bill, according to Intelligence Bureau records, will be just over 30,000 people. But this does not mean that Muslims from these countries will never be made Indian citizens if they happen to be in India and request political asylum.
What the present Act does is that though under normal circumstances, one of the requirements for citizenship by naturalisation is that the applicant must have resided in India during the last 12 months, and for 11 of the previous 14 years, it relaxes this 11-year requirement to five years for persons belonging to the same six religions and three countries. The bill exempts the tribal areas of Assam, Meghalaya, and Tripura from its applicability. It also exempts the areas regulated through the Inner Line Permit, which include Arunachal Pradesh, Mizoram and Nagaland.
Though it is not under the ken of this article, the present Act includes new provisions for cancellation of the registration of Overseas Citizenship of India (OCI) such as registration through fraud, in case of OCI holder sentenced to imprisonment for two or more years within five years of registration and in necessity in the interest of sovereignty and security of India. It also includes a provision on violation of any law notified by the central government. It also adds the opportunity for the OCI holder to be heard before the cancellation.
The point to note here is that this is not the first time that Citizenship Act has been amended in the country. In fact, the latest one is the sixth in the series; the occasions of the amendment were in 1986, 1992, 2003, 2005, and 2015. Muslims from Bangladesh, who came prior to 1971, have been accommodated, Tamils from Sri Lanka who came before 1967 have been included, and the Christians in Goa became Indians after its merger with India in 1962. In other words, the Act has accommodated from time to time all – Hindus, Muslims and Christians. And if the time so demands, the Act will be further amended to include others. Every Amendment has been time-specific within a given context. There is no permanence here. Therefore, it is only a perverse mind that sees the present Amendment in communal colour.
Therefore, in my considered view, the orchestrated protests have no substance, whatsoever. The forces behind them happen to be those who have been soundly rejected by the Indian people in the last general elections. Of course, the “Khan-Market Gang”, whose members dominate our media and educational institutions, are supporting them, because long accustomed to the unlimited patronages by the previous Congress regimes, they are agitated because the Modi government has denied them the patronage which they consider to be their birth-right. So, it is not important that they are rejecting the new Citizenship Act; what is really important now is for the nation to REJECT THESE REJECTIONISTS, who are the worst communalists in the country, exploiting the innocent Muslims in their diabolic game.
By Prakash Nanda