Indian parties ‘instigate’ violence after landmark citizenship bill is signed into law

Three people died on Thursday in police firing to quell violence that erupted in parts of India’north-eastern state of Assam over fears that a new citizenship law may lead to influx of migrants from neighbouring Bangladesh and destroy the local identity.

The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which heads the state and Union governments, accused opposition parties led by Congress of instigating violence in Assam and elsewhere in the region. 

The saffron party’s response came after Congress motor-mouth Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury said in parliament on Thursday that the entire northeast region is in flames and a “Kashmir-like” situation is emerging in Assam which had witnessed massive anti-immigrant protests in the past.

Amid imposition of curfew and suspension of internet services in parts of Assam to prevent the spread of misinformation and protests, Prime Minister Narendra Modi appealed to people of the state not to be misled by the Congress party’s divisive statements.

Most of the north-east region is outside the ambit of the citizenship bill and the new law is not going to affect the traditions, values, culture and language of the region, Modi said.

While debating the landmark Citizenship (Amendment) Bill (CAB) in both Houses of Parliament this week, Home Minister Amit Shah made it amply clear that the legislation is to help minorities who had fled Muslim-majority Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Bangladesh to India because of religious persecution.

The minorities to be granted citizenship under the new law include Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Christians and Parsis. The bill does not want to include members belonging to disgruntled ethnic Islamic factions in Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh who have already fled to India or want to seek refuge there.

False narrative by Congress

While the Union government is clear on the limited objective of the new law, Congress and other opposition parties are demanding an all-encompassing law on citizenship which is unrealistic.

According to Congress and others, the new law discriminates against Muslims by denying them the fundamental right of equal access to citizenship.

They say CAB will make Muslims stateless and polarise the country further on religious lines.

To draw the attention of western media, a Congress leader even compared the new legislation to Nazi laws against Jews in Germany of the 1930s.
Many other opposition leaders are viewing the bill as a tactic by the Union government to divert public attention from its alleged economic policy failures.

The critics of the law argue that it could have accommodated persecuted Muslim ethnic groups such as the Hazaras of Afghanistan, Ahmadis and Shias of Pakistan and stateless Rohingya people living in Myanmar or refugee camps in Bangladesh’s Cox’s Bazar.

Dravidian parties questioned the government for not including persecuted Sri Lankan Tamils in the ambit of the law.

An attempt is also being made by the opposition parties to link the citizenship law to National Register of Citizens (NRC) which aims to deport all illegal infiltrators from India.

The Opposition is trying to make the people of Assam believe that the new citizenship law is meant to protect Hindu immigrants from Bangladesh who had been excluded from the register for Assam because of errors committed while publishing the NRC final list late in August this year.

Facts critics of the law ignore

Opposition parties attacking the citizenship law have not seriously studied it or are feigning ignorance to give an anti-Muslim colouring to it in an effort to woo more minority voters.

 While debating the humanitarian bill before it was passed by parliament and signed into law by President Ram Nath Kovind, Home Minister Amit Shah made it amply clear that CAB is in no way linked to Muslims who are Indian citizens or to Muslims seeking asylum in India from Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh.

If millions of people belonging to ethnic Islamic groups such as Shias, Ahmadis, Hazaras and Rohingya face persecution in their respective countries or elsewhere, India, and for that matter no country, can offer citizenship to them.

These ethnic groups follow Islam which is the state religion of Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh. They are part of the majority Muslim community in these countries and cannot be treated as minorities by India.

Replying to the criticism that the bill violates Article 14 dealing with the right to equality enshrined in the Constitution, Shah said the article allows reasonable classification of groups.

The bill made the classification based on three neighbouring countries, where Islam is the state religion, and six minority communities which faced persecution for long there.

Shah said he would not have presented the citizenship bill in parliament had the Congress decided against the partition of India on the basis of religion in 1947.

To ensure the protection of rights of minorities in India and Pakistan, a deal was signed in April 1950 by Indian prime minister of the time Jawaharlal Nehru and his Pakistani counterpart Liaquat Ali Khan. The deal proved to be a dismal failure.

India respected the Nehru-Liaquat pact by allowing Muslims equal rights to advance themselves in all spheres of life. Pakistan simply ignored it.

While India has the largest Muslim population outside Muslim-majority countries now, the Hindu population in Pakistan fell to 1.6% in 2018 from 12.9% in 1947. This clearly shows Pakistanis killed many Hindus or forced them flee. Minority Sikhs, Buddhists, Christians, Jains and Parsis suffered the same fate as Hindus in Pakistan.

If thousands of these minorities who fled religious persecution are seeking citizenship in India, their homeland, how one can deny it, Shah asked. Where else can they go, he wondered.

The Opposition demand to include Sri Lankan Tamils in the bill is baseless, he said. Sri Lankan Tamils fled to India not because of religious persecution but a civil war for autonomy raging in a region in the island nation.   

Prime Minister Narendra Modi rightly called the passage of the humanitarian bill a landmark day for India and its ethos of compassion and brotherhood.

States reject new law

In the meantime, states not ruled by BJP such as Punjab, Madhya Pradesh, Bengal and Kerala have rejected the citizenship law.
However, since the question of citizenship comes under the Union government’s purview, it is not clear how states can refuse to implement a bill enacted into law by parliament.

Parties and individuals have already moved some 12 petitions in the Supreme Court challenging CAB.

Parties are planning protests across the country. To draw the attention of the world against the law, Congress is going to hold demonstrations in front of Indian embassies in some countries.

The purpose of the opposition parties is clear. They want to corner the Modi government and play vote bank politics by sending a message to Muslim voters that they are with them.

The Modi government hopes the protests will subside in a few days.

It has deployed 26 army columns across violence-hit areas in Assam and other regions to keep protesters at bay.