The Union Cabinet on Monday, 7 January, cleared the redrafted Citizenship Amendment Bill, which seeks to provide Indian citizenship to non-Muslims from Bangladesh, Afghanistan and Pakistan, PTI reported.
The bill is expected to be tabled in the Lok Sabha on Tuesday, 8 January, an official privy to the development told PTI.
The move came within hours of the presentation in the Lok Sabha of a report of the Joint Parliamentary Committee examining the bill, that was first introduced in Parliament in 2016.
Meanwhile, trouble mounted for BJP as its ally in Assam, Asom Gana Parishad (AGP) decided to walk out of the alliance over the Citizenship Bill, reported CNN-News18.
AGP president Atul Bora had earlier written to BJP Chief Amit Shah about his party’s reservations on the bill. “We decided for an alliance with the BJP based on understanding on the Assam Accord and other issues.” according to CNN-News18.
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The bill was introduced in the Lok Sabha to amend the Citizenship Act, 1955. It seeks to grant citizenship to people from minority communities – Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis and Christians – from Afghanistan, Pakistan and Bangladesh after six years of residence in India instead of 12, even if they do not possess any proper document.
The citizenship bill has been opposed by a large section of people and organisations in the Northeast.
Shiv Sena, the BJP’s bickering ally in Maharashtra had earlier said it would oppose the bill in Parliament, reported PTI. The party said the bill is being opposed by the people in Assam irrespective of their religion.
“Asom Gana Parishad leaders met Uddhav ji and explained everything, it's not just Hindu-Muslim thing, Assam has its own culture and demography and this bill would change that, which may again create conditions for a civil war,” Shiv Sena MP Sanjay Raut told ANI.
The Shiv Sena, on Sunday, had noted that the proposed legislation would "frustrate" the efforts made under the Assam Accord for safeguarding cultural, social and linguistic identity and heritage of the Assamese people.
The Janata Dal United JD(U), the BJP’s ally in Bihar, is also opposing the bill, The Times of India reported.
JD(U) leader Sanjay Verma told the daily that the party is opposing the bill as it will do no good to the identity and culture of Assam.
The decision by the two parties came after AGP, reached out to them to not support the bill in the Parliament.
The prime minister had announced at a rally at Silchar in Assam on Friday that the government is moving ahead with the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill.
Black Flags Raised, Effigies Burnt in Assam
A number of organisations including the Krishak Mukti Sangram Samiti (KMSS) took out protest rallies across Assam to protest PM Narendra Modi's announcement to pass the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill.
The protestors burnt the effigies of Modi and Assam Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal.
A group of KMSS members showed a black flag in front of Sonowal's SUV at Dibrugarh and briefly interrupted the high-security convoy, forcing the NSG commandos to disembark and clear the way with the help of the CM's personal security provided by Assam Police, reported PTI.
Hundreds of members of a women's organisations took everyone by surprise when they gheraoed the BJP state office at Hengerabari area in Guwahati without prior intimation to anyone to lodge their protest against the proposed move by the BJP-led central government.
“The decision to pass the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2016 is a historic injustice. It is a total dishonour shown to the people of Assam,” Assam Pradesh Congress Committee President Ripun Bora said at Tezpur.
Addressing a press conference, he said the party will launch a series of programmes under 'Jagao Assam, Bachao Assam' and will demonstrate outside Parliament on Monday.
The Asomiya Nari Samaj Adviser Balika Pegu said around 300 women members of the organisation came and blocked the BJP state headquarters for almost three hours.
They were later forcibly taken away by police.
"It was a sudden plan. Women came from all districts, including from far flung Sadiya. We will take more aggressive protest against this Bill. The CM lied to us by saying that he would protect Jati-Mati-Bheti (community, land, homeland)," she added.
At Dibrugarh, Sonowal attended the 61st Biennial State Conference of All Assam Ahom Association as the Chief Guest and said: "Our land is our pride and we will not allow that Assamese pride and prestige to get threatened at any cost."
Opposition United in Opposing Bill
The final report of the joint parliamentary committee on the Citizenship Amendment Bill does not have the approval of at least four Opposition parties whose members on the panel have moved dissent notes, sources told PTI on Sunday.
Members of the Congress, TMC, CPI(M) and the Samajwadi Party have moved dissent notes to the JPC report on the bill, sources across these parties said.
“As members of the joint committee on Citizenship Amendment Bill, 2016, we can state that there was no consensus in the committee on the final report. We had been opposed to the bill as it brings out the ethnic divisions in the state of Assam,” one of the notes said, reported PTI.
Members of the committee from the Left and TMC said the committee had visited Gujarat, Rajasthan and Assam where they faced major opposition to the bill.
"In Assam it is more critical issue. During the Assam visit, the committee even faced demonstration. On behalf of the committee, we promised to visit the state again, to talk to more stakeholders about the issue and also assured them that unless we meet again we won't submit the report. Now, it's embarrassing," said a member from the Left.
The Opposition parties said that they had objection to the bill which they alleged links religion to citizenship.
"This is the basic objection. So, delink religion from citizenship issue. This is against the spirit of our civilisation, culture and of our Constitution. Citizenship can't be linked with state, religion, caste, creed and be country specific. It should be universal," said another dissenting member.
The members have also raised objections over the way the committee has functioned. They said that they had given amendments to Clause 2 of the bill seeking to eliminate the specific mention of six minority communities and also the names of neighbouring countries. This was to secularise the bill, the dissent note from the TMC said.
The amendments were defeated in the committee in a vote by the show of hands.
The ruling party mobilised all their members to defeat the amendments.
"We are not happy about functioning of the commission. Since three years of its formation, the sitting was occasion. During the session, the committee sits for three times in a week. Sometimes no meeting for six months. So the chairman used to put the committee either in top gear or in neutral gear. It was not normal,” a Left leader said.
The Opposition leaders have also alleged the bill could end up exposing the ethnic divisions in the state of Assam.
"We feel that no names of genuine Indian citizens should have been deleted. We also strongly feel that the bill should not be passed by sheer majority since this is a political effort not necessitated by political realities in Assam and West Bengal," the TMC said in its note.
Bill an Atonement of Wrong Done During Partition: PM
While speaking in Silchar, Assam on Friday, Prime Minister Modi had reiterated the Centre's commitment to pass the Citizenship Amendment Bill.
"The Citizenship Bill is an atonement of the wrong that was done during India's partition. I hope this bill is passed soon in Parliament. India will safeguard all who had been victims of partition," he had said.
(With inputs from ANI, The Times of India and PTI)
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