By Dr. Prem Singh
By passing the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill 2016 in the Lok Sabha the Narendra Modi government at the Center has taken up another step towards the contempt of the Constitution. The Bill provides that six non-Muslim communities – Hindu, Sikh, Christian, Buddhist, Jain, Parsi – of Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan will be granted citizenship of India in the event of religious persecution. The Bill not only lays down the rules of granting citizenship of India to not only Hindus, Sikhs, Christians, Buddhists, Parsis and Jains coming from Bangladesh but also from Pakistan and Afghanistan. There is no such concession for the people of the Muslim community in the Bill. The BJP MPs also have said that the way the population of Hindu community is decreasing in Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan, this Bill was necessitated. They say that Hindus are being persecuted in those countries and India wants to give them protection.
The immediate opposition of this Bill is happening in the North-East. The Asom Gana Parishad (AGP) has withdrawn its support from the Sarbadananda Sonowal government in Assam. Meghalaya’s Chief Minister, Conard Sangma, an ally in the NDA, has said that his party is against this Bill. The Indigenous Peoples Front of Tripura (IPFT), another ally of the NDA, has also opposed the Bill. Another NDA partner and Mizoram Chief Minister Zormamthanga also opposed this bill. The BJP’s 11-party North-East Democratic Alliance (NEDA), which includes regional parties of Tripura, Nagaland and Mizoram, called the Bill a threat to local communities. There have been bandh at several places in northeastern states in protest of the Bill. The BJP office in Shillong has also been attacked by a bomb.
In fact, the demand of the Assam movement emerged in the North-East in the eighties was that all foreigners should be taken out of the region, who were spoiling the local identity. There was no discrimination on the basis of Hindu or Muslim. It was a kind of sub-nationality that was found in different ways throughout the North-East. In order to handle that sub-nationality question of the North-East, the Congress leader and then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi made the Assam Accord in 1985. In that agreement, a promise was made to identify all the foreigners and get them out. The agreement became a victim of all kinds of hindrances and, as a result, the Congress became weak in the North-East and the BJP formed its own governments in Assam, Manipur, Tripura and Arunachal Pradesh and its allies in Meghalaya, Nagaland and Mizoram
The BJP has come to power in the North-East on the shoulders of sub-nationality and is now converting the same into its long-cherished dream of Hindu Nation. The BJP believes that the way in which it has extended its expansion by riding on the shoulders of regional parties across the country and is doing its Hinduisation, it will be successful in the North-East as well. That is why the opposition to this Bill is emerging mainly in the North-East. RSS/BJP have been making the issue of preaching and conversion of Christian missionaries in the North-East. But by giving concession to Christians in this Bill, it has tried to save the church’s displeasure at the moment. Even if the immediate goal of this Bill is to make Hinduisation of the northeastern states, its effect will not be limited to that region. The Union Ministers in the government have stated openly in the House that its impact will affect the whole country.
The BJP claimed that what it is doing in this direction is in very much accordance with the sentiment of the Assam Accord. In the Assam Accord the accepted year of entry in Assam was 1971. This Bill has made it 2014. The time limit of settling in India to get citizenship was kept 11 years, which has now been reduced to six years. The main thing is that there was no provision for getting citizenship on the basis of religion in the Assam Accord. India is a secular nation and citizenship is not provided in any secular nation on the basis of religion. Therefore, this step of amending the Citizenship Law is not only against the Assam Accord, but completely opposite to the basic spirit of the Constitution.
It is possible that this amendment resulted in a decrease in the number of people (around 40 lakh) who did not find place in the National Register of Citizens (NRC) and a large number of people become citizens of India. But this will lead to the emergence of sub-nationality of the North-East and there will be intense communal polarization in the state like Assam, where Muslims constitute 34 percent of the population. This polarization was also seen during the Assam movement. Nellie massacre is its proof. But at that time the agitating section of Assam was embarrassed with this communal tangle. Today the communal politics of the BJP is creating the same conditions again.
We believe that this Bill is going to strengthen the principle of a religion-based nation and it has come out of the RSS’s thinking of making India a Hindu Nation. While the Constitution makers have granted India an identity of secular nation. The Socialist Party wants that this Bill be prevented from becoming a law by not passing it in the Rajya Sabha.
Furthermore this problem of Assam and the North-East should be resolved under the broader idea of constituting a federation (mahasangh) of India-Pakistan and Bangladesh. Because this sub-continent was divided geographically on religious basis, but its history, culture and economy are connected to each other. Therefore, trying to divide it on the religious basis is creating new problems.
Dr. Prem Singh is President of socialist Party