The NDA must pull back on the citizenship amendment bill
The basic principle of the constitutional order on which the Indian State runs is there shall be no discrimination on the basis of religion. By prioritising people from certain religions - primarily Hindus - and explicitly excluding one particular community - Muslims - the amendment appears to legitimise the idea that India is fundamentally a Hindu State.Updated: Feb 03, 2019 17:30 IST
The Citizenship Amendment Bill — which provides for the grant of Indian citizenship to non-Muslims of Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh — is among the most contentious legislations in India’s recent history. Pushed fiercely by the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), it was passed in the Lok Sabha on January 10. The National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government now hopes to get it cleared in the Rajya Sabha though it lacks the numbers on its own in the Upper House. This actually creates room for a rethink on the amendment itself.
This proposal is constitutionally suspect and politically dangerous. It also jeopardises the internal security environment, can deepen social cleavages and goes against the tenets of Indian nationhood.
Here is why. For one, the basic principle of the constitutional order on which the Indian State runs is that there shall be no discrimination on the basis of religion. By prioritising people from certain religions — primarily Hindus — and explicitly excluding one particular community — Muslims — the amendment appears to legitimise the idea that India is fundamentally a Hindu State. India is indeed a Hindu-dominated society. But the State has no religion, and must not craft policies on its basis. India can very well develop a comprehensive refugee policy. It should be open to giving shelter to those fleeing persecution. But this must have no religious connotation.
The amendment has already made the whole of Northeast volatile. The politics of the region has often been driven by the suspicion and fear of immigrants. States like Assam have not made a distinction between Hindu and Muslim immigrants from Bangladesh. The BJP, for its part, is seeking to make precisely this distinction for electoral purposes elsewhere, primarily in Bengal. But this betrays a poor understanding of the delicate ethnic equations in the Northeast. Besides opening up security threats, the amendment is also self-destructive for the BJP — which, to its credit, had been expanding in this unlikely corner of the country. Given the local resentment, the party’s hopes of sweeping a majority the 25 seats in the region suddenly look far more difficult. The BJP should pull back on the amendment and stop playing with fire.