Citizenship (Amendment) Bill Likely To Be Placed Before Parliament Next Week

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New Delhi: The controversial Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, or CAB, which proposes to provide Indian citizenship to members of religious minorities from Muslim-dominated Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan, is likely to be placed before Parliament next week, senior government officials aware of the development said.

In a related development, Union home minister Amit Shah is holding a series of meetings with chief ministers of northeastern states and leaders of social and cultural bodies, students’ organisations and political parties starting on Friday on plans to amend the Citizenship Act, officials in the home ministry said on condition of anonymity.

CAB seeks to amend the Citizenship Act, 1955, in order to fast-track grant of Indian nationality to religious minorities – Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis and Christians -- from Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan. This was an electoral promise made by the Bharatiya Janata Party in the 2014 and the 2019 Lok Sabha polls.

CAB has drawn widespread opposition, especially in n the northeast. For instance, in Assam, the proposed amendment has raised concerns that it would nullify the 1985 Assam Accord, which fixed March 24, 1971, as the cut-off date for deportation of all illegal immigrants irrespective of religion. Similarly, there has been opposition in Mizoram because the amendment would make Buddhist Chakma refugees Indian citizens. Protests have taken place in Tripura and even Arunachal Pradesh against the proposed bill. Opposition parties like the Congress, Trinamool Congress and CPI (Marxist) have also opposed the bill, pointing to the fact that the Constitution does not allow granting of citizenship on the basis of religion. In contrast, the BJP and its affiliates have insisted that minorities from the three countries, which include a significant number of Hindus, should be granted citizenship because of the persecution they face there.

Shah’s engagement with socio-cultural, student and political groupings is to understand their objections to and apprehensions about the proposed amendment, a senior home ministry official said. Shah is holding discussions on Saturday and on December 3 with the North East Students’ Organisation, the All Bodo Students’ Union and student bodies from Meghalaya, Nagaland and Arunachal Pradesh. The meetings with the CMs will be held on Saturday, one of the officials said.

The government is confident of steering the bill through both Houses, but it is apprehensive of possible public protests in some of the northeastern states. Earlier this week, the National Security Council Secretariat (NSCS) headed by National Security Advisor Ajit Doval took stock of the situation in the region.

In its first term, the Narendra Modi government had won Lok Sabha approval for the CAB, but didn’t introduce the bill in the Rajya Sabha. It now needs to be taken to Parliament afresh.

The bill lapsed following the dissolution of the last Lok Sabha. There could be changes to the cut-off date of December 31, 2014 in the fresh bill, officials said.

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