The Lok Sabha on Tuesday passed the Citizenship Amendment Bill, 2019 after several hours of heated debate and amid Opposition’s strong objections over the legitimacy of the proposed law that seeks to give citizenship to non-Muslims from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan.
Opposition leaders Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury, Saugata Roy, N K Premachandran, Gaurav Gogoi, Shashi Tharoor and Assaduddin Owaisi had opposed the introduction of the bill.
Defending the bill, Union Home Minister Amit Shah said: "We will have to differentiate between intruders and refugees. This bill does not discriminate against anyone and does not snatch anyone’s rights."
He said that under the proposed legislation, citizenship will be granted to Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Jain, Parsi and Christian refugees who arrived in India till December 31, 2014 from the three countries to escape religious persecution there, even without documents, including ration cards.
During the debate, which was marked by heated arguments, AIMIM chief Asaduddin Owaisi also tore the bill, saying it was aimed at making Muslims "stateless" and will lead to another partition.
Opposing the bill, Congress MP Manish Tewari said the bill is "unconstitutional" and "contrary to the spirit of the Constitution which is secular".
"Equals cannot be treated as unequal. When a person comes to India, he is a refugee. You cannot discriminate against him on the basis of religion," he said during the debate.
"The bill is against the Constitution, against the spirit of Constitution and against the ideology propounded by Babasaheb Ambedkar," Tewari said.
As per the UN Convention, he said, the government cannot discriminate against refugees on the basis of religion.
Refuting the contention that the Congress was responsible for partition of the country, Tewari alleged that it was Savarkar who propagated the idea of partition at a Hindu Mahasabha meeting in 1935.
DMK member Dayanidhi Maran claimed the government has not taken a single step to win the hearts of minorities and the bill was against the spirit of India's age-old ethos of 'Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam' (world is a family).
"You are preoccupied with Pakistan," he said, and added that Amit Shah has failed to realise that he is the Home Minister of entire India and not just of North India.
TMC leader Abhishek Banerjee said that his party's idea of India was "inclusive" unlike the ruling party's idea of a "divisive" nation.
"Our India smiles. Your idea of India is based on mob lynching. Let me tell you whatever may happen there wouldn't be any NRC in West Bengal," Banerjee said.
According to the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2019, members of Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Jain, Parsi and Christian communities, who have come from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan till December 31, 2014, facing religious persecution there will not be treated as illegal immigrants but given Indian citizenship.
While NDA allies the JD(U) and the Lok Janshakti Party (LJP) extended support to the bill, fence sitters, including the Biju Janata Dal (BJD) and the YSR Congress also supported the bill while suggesting that Muslims should also be included in the bill.
Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury, Leader of the Congress in Lok Sabha, said the government was trying to create impression that by opposing the legislation, the party was anti-Hindu.
"We are opposing the bill because it is discriminatory in nature. It wreaks havoc on the very foundations of the Constitution. This is a step towards Hindu rashtra. India should maintain the essence of humanity," Chowdhury said.
NCP’s Surpriya Sule said the perception is that every Muslim is feeling insecure and the second largest minority community should not be felt left out.
Replying to the debate, Amit Shah said that the Bill does in no way affect the Indian Muslims.
He also said that Rohingyas will never be accepted as citizens of India as “the Rohingyas infiltrated India through Bangladesh. The came from Myanmar”.
Shah underlined that Assam-like National Register of Citizens (NRC) exercise will soon be undertaken across the country.
“Some members said that this bill has been brought to prepare the ground for the nationwide NRC. I want to tell them that we don’t need any ground for NRC. The NRC will be implemented across the country and it is already in our election manifesto,” Shah said.
Among a total of 391 members present in the Lower House, 311 voted in favour of the Bill while 80 voted against it. All the amendments moved by the Opposition MPs were defeated as the ruling NDA has an overwhelming majority in the lower house of Parliament.
(With PTI inputs)