NEW DELHI – The Lok Sabha on Monday voted to introduce the controversial Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2019, tabled by Union home minister Amit Shah. Opposition parties led by the Congress had opposed the introduction, saying that the Bill violated Article 14 of the constitution.
A total of 293 members voted in favour of introducing the Bill, while 82 voted against.
The Bill grants Indian citizenship to immigrants from six non-Muslim religious communities coming from Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh. It has been criticised as being blatantly communal and anti-Muslim.
Congress leader Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury began the debate, interrupting Shah to say that the Bill could not be introduced. Reading the preamble of the constitution, Chowdhury asked Shah, “Do you not like this document?”
Shah, responding to Chowdhury’s statement that the Bill openly targeted minorities, said that it did not do so “even 0.001%”.
N.K. Premachandran of the Revolutionary Socialist Party also opposed the Bill, saying religion could not be made the basis for citizenship. Article 25 and 16 of the constitution, on the right to practice religion, is applicable to everyone, including non-citizens, he continued.
Saugata Roy of the Trinamool Congress also opposed introduction of the Bill, saying that that Shah’s defence that “Muslims were not mentioned” in the Bill holds no water. “Amit Shah is new to the house, perhaps he does not understand the rules,” Roy said to protests from the BJP. The Bill is divisive, he said, and unconstitutional.
E.T. Mohammed Basheer of the Indian Union Muslim League, Gaurav Gogoi of the Congress, Shashi Tharoor of the Congress and Asaduddin Owaisi of the All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen also spoke against the introduction of the Bill.
Owaisi hit out at the home minister, comparing him to Hitler. “I appeal to you (Speaker), save country from such a law and save home minister also,” Owaisi said. “Otherwise like in Nuremberg race laws and Israel’s citizenship act, home minister’s name will be featured with Hitler [German dictator] and David Ben-Gurion [former Israeli PM].”
Speaker Om Birla later said this comment would be purged from the record.
As the uproar grew, the speaker mentioned that he had received multiple notices against the Bill, citing that it violated Articles 5, 10, 14, 15, 25 and 26 of the constitution.
When Shah rose to speak, he was greeted by protestations from opposition leaders. He continued despite this, saying that he would assuage all fears about the Bill violating the constitution. Article 14 doesn’t stop the government from legislating based on reasonable classifications, he said.
“Indira Gandhi said in 1974 that people from Bangladesh would be granted citizenship,” Shah said. “Why didn’t she include Pakistan?”
He also mentioned that several “special rights” were given to minorities, on education for instance, and that doesn’t violate Article 14. “So many reasonable classification-based laws have been passed in the past,” Shah said. “I should be allowed to present to the House why this Bill also includes a reasonable classification.”
Shah was interrupted multiple times by opposition leaders as he defended the Bill. During the debate, the speaker had to ask several MPs to sit down multiple times.
As the uproar continued, Shah suddenly said, “Those who are protesting do not consider Pakistan-occupied Kashmir to be an integral part of India.”
Minorities are suffering in the countries listed in the Bill, the home minister said, and India has the responsibility to take in those who are persecuted. Islam is the official religion in all three countries – this makes it a reasonable classification for the Bill, Shah argued. “Muslims will never be ill-treated in these countries,” he said.
It is Congress who divided India on religious lines, Shah alleged, referring to Partition.
The Bill has been widely protested in the Northeast, particularly Assam, as it violates principles of the Assam Accord.