Are we to succumb to JPC?
In July 2016, the Lok Sabha introduced the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2016 to amend the Citizenship Act, 1955. This will make illegal migrants from Bangladesh, Afghanistan and Pakistan who belong to six communities such as Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis and Christians eligible for citizenship of India. Foreigners, who come into India without valid travel documents, or stay beyond their visa period, are considered illegal migrants. But certain exceptions have been made over the years. In Sep 2015, it says illegal migrants coming on or before Dec 31, 2014 were allowed to stay. And this exception was sought again in July 2016. Anybody who is born in India, has an Indian parent, or has lived in India for over 11 years, is eligible for Indian citizenship. Illegal migrants do not fit into this category. The Bill seeks to allow illegal migrants without being imprisoned or deported. It also appeals for the minimum years of residency to apply for citizenship from 11 to 6 years. However it does not extend to illegal Muslim migrants, Jews and Bahais. Our Constitution does not allow dual citizenship. But Person of India Origin (PIO) and Overseas Citizen of India (OCI) enjoy certain rights in India on par with Indian nationals. The Bill now seeks to cancel the registration of OCI cardholders if they violate any law.
Hearing on Citizenship Bill had begun amid protest in Guwahati to present a report before Parliament that seeks to grant citizenship to religious minorities facing persecution and violence for their beliefs. The Barak valley supports the Bill. The JPC also planned a visit to Shillong as a large number of Hindu Bangladeshis are living in Meghalaya.
The Hindus from Bangladesh fleeing to India to escape persecution have been living in the Northeast and Bengal since long without citizenship rights. Are they needed to be protected by law in our country? The Bill may also violate the Assam Accord 1985, which clearly states that illegal migrants heading in from Bangladesh after March 25, 1971 would be deported. Section 6A of the Citizenship Act (Amendment) 1985 was the legislative enactment of the legal part of the Assam Accord. The foreigners tribunals have identified almost 20,000 foreigners but it has become impossible to deport them. However, deportation has not been discussed between India and Bangladesh at any level so far. The purpose of updating the National Register of Citizenship (NRC) to identify foreigners is yet to be completed. Should we wait for the outcome of the NRC to get the exact figures? Should the Brahmaputra valley merely give up and succumb to the JPC?
The Great Division
Following the JPC hearings in Guwahati and Shillong, it is clear that there is a difference of perception between the people of the Brahmaputra and the Barak valleys as far as identity is concerned. The people of the Brahmaputra Valley are strongly opposed to the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill 2016 while those in the Barak Valley want the Bill to made a law so that their brethren from Bangladesh could settle here as Indian citizens, no matter how great a threat it would pose to the indigenous people of the State who are already a minority in several districts.
The Central BJP leadership wants a solid Hindu vote bank in Assam. This is understood. But what compels Sarbananda Sonowal, the bhumiputra, to maintain a mysterious silence? Compulsion of politics?