December 15, 2019

CAB: A Nefarious Design

THE Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2019 (CAB) has been passed by parliament despite strong opposition to it both within and outside parliament.  The CAB is a dangerous legislation which runs contrary to the basic principles of the constitution. The provisions of the bill undermine the secular concept of citizenship enshrined in the constitution.  Article 14 states that the State shall not deny to any person equality before the law or equal protection of the law within the territory of India. The constitution also prohibits discrimination on the basis of religion, caste, creed or sex.


What the CAB has done is to introduce a religious criteria in considering certain sections of people for citizenship.  As per the amendment, Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis or Christians who have come from Afghanistan, Bangladesh or Pakistan before December 31, 2014 shall not be treated as illegal migrants.  They can be eligible for citizenship by naturalisation, if they have spent not less than five years in India.  This is a relaxation of the time limit which was not less than eleven years for naturalised citizens.


But this provision does not apply to Muslims who have come into India from these three countries. They will still be treated as illegal migrants. It is this discrimination based on religion which makes the amendment to the citizenship law unconstitutional and illegal. 


The BJP had originally got the bill passed in the previous Lok Sabha, but it could not get it passed in the Rajya Sabha for lack of a majority. The motivation for the bill was its communal agenda of ensuring that Hindu migrants from Bangladesh living in Assam could be given citizenship while seeking to exclude any Muslim migrant from that country. This measure was necessitated because the National Register of Citizens (NRC) process in Assam would have excluded all those who entered the state after March 24, 1971. 


The final list of the NRC in Assam which was published on August 31 this year without the CAB has been put into effect.  It resulted in a large number of Hindus from Bangladesh being excluded from the NRC. That is why the Assam BJP state government and the central government opposed the NRC list.  It thus became urgent for the Modi government to adopt the CAB before embarking on preparing the NRC for the whole country.  In a diabolical move, home minister Amit Shah has announced that the NRC in Assam will be redone along with the rest of the country.


The CAB has met with a furious response in Assam and the North East. The Assamese people see this legislation as a betrayal of the commitment made in the Assam Accord by which all those who had entered Assam after March 1971 were not to be given citizenship. By extending the period to December 31, 2014 for legalising illegal migrants, the CAB has overturned the carefully balanced agreement arrived at in 1985 through the Assam Accord. 


Throughout the north-eastern states, there is the fear that their indigenous identities would be overwhelmed by the influx of people who have newly acquired citizenship. The Modi government’s attempts to mollify their fears by exempting  the tribal areas included in the Sixth Schedule of the Constitution in the north-eastern states and those areas which are covered under the Inner Line, have failed.  It has cut no ice since these protected areas are under continuous pressure of people coming from outside to settle down and live there.


The CAB and the NRC must be seen in tandem. While the former would legitimise non-Muslim migrants as citizens, the NRC would target the so-called Muslim infiltrators. What the BJP is aiming for is to create a category of second class citizens whose rights will be severely circumscribed.  Behind this thinking lies the two-nation theory advocated by V D Savarkar.


The pincer movement of the CAB and NRC will be used to heighten communal anxieties and create a new divisive agenda suited to the BJP-RSS’s sectarian politics. 


The CAB has to be challenged in the Supreme Court. While doing so, a widespread campaign should be conducted to expose the BJP’s nefarious designs with regard to the CAB-NRC.

(December 11, 2019)