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A Wilful Citizenship Bill

Sentinel Digital DeskBy : Sentinel Digital Desk

  |  14 April 2018 12:00 AM GMT

It is indeed difficult to imagine that in a federal and democratic set-up the Centre can be so determined on forcing a legislation that runs counter to the interest of a State and its people. The people of Assam have strongly opposed the Centre’s perverse determination to adopt the much-criticized Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2016 because they know that it will not only turn the Assamese people into a minority in their own State but very effectively jeopardize their very existence in the State. But that is not the only reason why the Bill should find no place in a republic that has long accepted and sustained the secular principle in its Constitution. The Bill is aimed at providing asylum and citizenship in India to minority and persecuted Hindus, Christians, Buddhists and Sikhs of neighbouring countries like Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh. In doing so, it has totally overlooked two important facets of the commitment that our Constitution has made in respect of being secular and unbiased in respect of religion. One is that it will make no distinction between individual citizens on grounds of religion. The other commitment is tacit and implied, but is totally undeniable as an important consideration before legislating any new Bills or laws. It is that there will be no legislation that threatens to affect one State or region and its people in the most unjust manner. It is an extension of the principle of equality enshrined in our Constitution. Obviously, there can be no equality if any Bill or enacted law is detrimental to the interests of the people of any or region in a selective manner. The Citizenship (Amendndment) Bill, 2016 is clearly aimed at affecting the people of Assam rather selectively. It is, therefore, discriminatory in nature and deserves to be abandoned immediately if India claims to be a true democracy that respects the wishes, aspirations and fears of the people instead of trying to ram a perverse law down the throats of millions.

It hardly matters that the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2016 seems like a piece of legislation that is intended for the entire country and not just one State. It is the actual outcome of the Bill that matters. The largest group of people that it is bound to have an impact on are the Hindus of Bangladesh. When they migrate to India seeking Indian citizenship, they will just cross the Indo-Bangladesh border and come to Assam and the other States of the Northeast. They are quite unlikely to travel all the way to Gujarat or Maharashtra or Karnataka to claim their Indian citizenship. And that is not all. There are already millions of Bangladeshis (both Muslims and Hindus) who are already living illegally in Assam. They will not have to move anywhere at all in order to claim their Indian citizenship. From having remained as illegal residents for years, they will all become Indian citizens at once. Very few foreigners in a similar situation in other countries are so fortunate.

In the kind of situation that the Assamese people find themselves in now right within the land of their birth and habitation, it is unlikely that the aspirations and fears of the people will cut any ice even in this democracy of ours. The Forum Against Citizenship Act Amendment Bill conducted a sit-in protest demonstration at Guwahati on Thursday that was attended by leaders from different political parties including dissident members of the BJP opposed to this perverse legislation. Perhaps the most welcome development has been the stand of the AGP that has even vowed to quit the alliance with the BJP over this issue. “We are not power-hungry politicians. The moment the BJP-led government at the Centre converts the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill into a law, we will quit the Sonowal government,” said Assam’s Agriculture Minister and AGP president on Thursday. The people of Assam must give them necessary support and moral strength to keep the AGP leaders and other campaigners committed to their promise regardless of the Centre’s determination to force a perverse law on Assam and its people.

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