New Citizenship Law
By Dhurjati Mukherjee
Aggressiveness and arrogance in decision-making whether in the political, economic or social spheres may backfire if the confidence of other political parties is not taken into confidence. In a democratic set-up like India, consensus has to be the key in any major policy formulation. But the ruling party has stirred a hornet’s nest in aggressively promoting the need to have a National Register of Citizens (NRC) all over the country, following the passage of the Citizenship Amendment Bill (CAB) in Parliament.
The new citizenship law has triggered massive protests in different parts of the country, including Capital, Delhi. Moreover, some State governments have announced that they would not allow the NRC to be implemented in their States, the most vocal being West Bengal, Punjab and Delhi. However, experts are of the opinion that State governments lacked the power to refuse to implement a Central law like the CAB. Some lawyers even cited constitutional provisions to stress that any move by a State to disregard a parliamentary enactment may lead to the dismissal of its government.
It is generally believed that the new Act violates the right to equality guaranteed to all under Article 14 of the Constitution. The amendments follow from pre-poll promises of the BJP to grant citizenship to Hindu immigrants from Pakistan and Bangladesh. The negation of Pakistan as a natural homeland of Muslims became conclusive after the creation of Bangladesh. Although Muslims in India are now frequently told to go there by some political leaders, Pakistan has not extended any special offers of citizenship to Indian Muslims. India’s tryst with CAB and NRC will lead to unequal treatment assuming a formal form and get embedded in citizenship
In a statement endorsed by over 770 scientists and scholars from several institutions expressed displeasure at religion being used as a criterion for citizenship which “would mark a radical break with history (equal treatment of people of all faiths) and would be inconsistent with the basic structure of the Constitution. Referring to Article 14, they pointed out that it prohibits the State from denying “to any person equality before the law or the equal protection of the laws within the territory.
Delving into the basics of citizenship, one may refer to UNESCO, which defined it as “the status of having the right to participate in and to be represented in politics.” It is a collection of rights and obligations that give individuals a formal juridical identity. The Citizenship Act, 1955 provides various ways in which citizenship may be acquired. It provides for citizenship by birth, descent, registration, naturalization and by incorporation of territory into India. In addition, it regulates registration of Overseas Citizen of India Cardholders (OCIs), and their rights. An Overseas Citizen of India is entitled to some benefits such as a multiple-entry, multi-purpose life-long visa to visit India.
Union Home Minister Amit Shah stated in Parliament on November 20 that the National Register of Citizens (NRC) would be prepared for every State. At present, only Assam has such a register, wherein it is basically a list of Indian citizens living in the State. The citizens’ register sets out to identify foreign nationals in the State that borders Bangladesh. The process to update the register began following a Supreme Court order in 2013, with the State’s nearly 33 million people having to prove that they were Indian nationals prior to March 24, 1971.The updated final NRC was released on August 31, with over 1.9 million applicants failing to make it to the list.
Possibly, keeping in view the large-scale protests over the NRC, the CAB proposed amnesty to all illegal immigrants, whether Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis and Christians, from Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan. But it has been pointed out that the amendment to the Citizenship Act 1955 strikes at the root of principles of equality. The amendment in favour for the exclusively named minorities from only three countries would openly display India’s hostility to South Asian Muslims. However, under the present citizenship law, one of the requirements for citizenship by naturalisation is that the applicant must have resided in India during the last 12 months, as well as for 11 of the previous 14 years. The amendment relaxes the second requirement from 11 years to 6 years as a specific condition for applicants belonging to these six religions, and the aforementioned three countries.
Obviously, the BJP wants to prove that Hindus caught in the NRC’s dragnet need not fear because its main intention was to protect the majority community. If the NRC is carried out in all States, the government will be able to legally single out Muslims for investigation. It is indeed strange why this community does not come under the purview of the amendment bill. Is the government bent on unsettling the citizenship status of the country’s Muslims?
Another important fallacy is that while Afghanistan, which does not share a border with India, is included in the amendment bill while Myanmar, which does border our country has been omitted as it would have been ideologically inconvenient for the ruling party here to include that country as it has been cleansing its Muslim population and they may have come to India for shelter.
In a democratic and egalitarian society, where most politicians swear by the name of secularism such attitude towards Muslims cannot be justified. While many chief ministers have been highly critical of the NRC, world opinion would also not be in favour of such action. Even the United Nations has criticised the CAB and internal opinion is very much against this.
Political analysts have begun to ponder whether pressurising the States to create a national register would at all benefit the party. But as the economic situation is getting worse and expectations of any improvement in the first half – or even the send half — of 2020 appears grim, the BJP may bank on NRC or even the Ayodhya verdict to garner votes. But basic necessities like food and shelter, specially in the rural and backward areas, may gain precedence over their religious moorings.
But people are getting educated and conscious of the ploys of politicians to remain in power. The over emphasis to make India a Hindu Rashtra may backfire as the Muslims and Christians are even now very much against the BJP. With its pro-Hindu stance, how can it think of coming to power, say in West Bengal and many other States where Muslims and Christians have significant numbers?
If we consider South India, there is significant share of minorities and with education and awareness levels quite high, such proposition may even be rejected by a major section of Hindus. Most people the undersigned had the opportunity to talk to in Kolkata, Delhi and Bangalore were highly critical of the NRC and even pointed out that the apex court should be approached against such moves.
As we are in the midst of Mahatma Gandhi’s 159th birth anniversary who talked of communal unity, cooperation and fair treatment to all in an inclusive set-up, where masses have a say in the decision-making process and when these values are being propounded the world over, imposing NRC would go against democratic rights of citizens, specially the major minority that is Muslims. Moreover, at a time when we talk of modern governance, can this find any justification, except that of vengeance and hatred?—INFA