Oppn slams citizenship bill as unconstitutional, BJP says it is in line with soul of Constitution

New Delhi, Dec 4 (PTI) The Opposition slammed the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill on Wednesday as 'unconstitutional' and alleged that it is in 'violation' of the idea of India that religion cannot be a ground for citizenship, but the BJP asserted that the draft legislation is in 'consonance' with the soul and spirit of the Constitution.

Rejecting the opposition parties' charge, BJP spokesperson G V L Narasimha Rao said they are blinded by the narrow interest of protecting their 'vote bank by way of illegal immigrants'.

He said the decision to grant citizenship to people of certain faiths is meant to save them from exploitation and ill-treatment meted out to them in neighbouring countries.

The contentious bill, which seeks to grant citizenship to non-Muslim immigrants from Afghanistan, Pakistan and Bangladesh if they were religiously persecuted there, was cleared by the Union Cabinet earlier in the day.

Parliament is set to take it up for passage in the coming days.

Several Congress leaders panned the bill, with Congress MP Shashi Tharoor asserting that 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.

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.

Asked about the Congress's stand, its leader in Lok Sabha Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury told reporters that the party will form a view after studying its provisions as it was yet not aware of them.

However, veteran party leader and three-time Assam Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi said the Congress will move the Supreme Court against the bill which is 'unconstitutional' and 'divisive'.

CPI(M)'s general secretary Sitaram Yechury demanded that the bill be withdrawn.

'It is simple. Citizenship cannot be determined by or linked to religion. This is what makes the Citizenship Amendment Bill (CAB) unacceptable and unconstitutional. The CAB is aimed at destroying the basis of India,' he tweeted.

Defending the bill, seen as a key part of the BJP's ideological project, BJP spokesperson Rao said it is 'in consonance with the spirit and soul of Indian Constitution and our government's 'India first' motto. This bill in no way discriminates against any citizen of India and conforms to 'sabka saath, sabka vikas' policy'.

Illegal immigrants are a major burden on the country and deprives the poor citizens of the resources meant for them, he added.

Rather than acting with a humanist approach by helping those who were driven out of neighbouring countries due to religious persecution, the opposition is acting in a manner which is prejudicial to India's interests, Rao said. PTI KR ASK ASG KR SMN SMN