New Delhi: Paving the way for Parliament to take up the contentious Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, the Union Cabinet on Wednesday approved the draft law that seeks to grant citizenship to non-Muslim refugees from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan if they faced religious persecution there.
Slammed by the Opposition as divisive and communal, the bill is a key part of the BJP’s ideological project as it proposes citizenship to non-Muslim, mostly Hindus, refugees living in India and will protect them from the nation-wide NRC drive the central government is planning to identify illegal immigrants.
At the Cabinet briefing, Union minister Prakash Javadekar said the government has taken care of the interests of everyone and “the interest of India”.
“People will welcome it as it is in the interest of the nation,” he said when asked about the protests by different groups, especially in northeastern states where refugees from the three neighbouring countries have been living in large numbers.
The government is likely to introduce the bill in the next two days and may push for its passage the next week.
Key opposition parties like the Congress and Trinamool Congress have severely criticised the bill. Congress’s Shashi Tharoor said it violates the basic idea of India that religion can never be a reason for citizenship.
“Those who believe that religion should determine nationhood…that was the idea of Pakistan, they created Pakistan. We have always argued that our idea of nation was what Mahatma Gandhi, Nehruji, Maluana Azad, Dr Ambedkar have said, that religion cannot determine nationhood,” Tharoor told reporters in Parliament premises.
“Ours is a country for everybody and everybody, irrespective of religion, has equal rights in this country, and the Constitution that they wrote reflected that. Today, this bill undermines this fundamental tenet of the Constitution,” he added.
The draft legislation is expected to sail through Lok Sabha, where the BJP has a big majority, and is unlikely to face serious hurdles in Rajya Sabha as well as the ruling party has often managed the support of parties like the BJD, TRS and YSR Congress for its flagship agenda.
Top BJP leaders, including its president and Home Minister Amit Shah, have held extensive parleys with political parties and citizen groups from the Northeast to assuage their concerns by incorporating some of their major concerns to protect the local ethnic and tribal interests.
The Modi government had tabled the bill in Parliament in the last year of its previous term as well. Lok Sabha had passed it but it was blocked by Rajya Sabha.
The government is believed to have effected certain changes in the previous version of the bill in its new avatar.
Despite facing serious opposition, including from allies, the ruling BJP has expressed its determination time and again to the bill.
Senior party leader and Defence Minister Rajnath Singh had on Tuesday asked BJP MPs to be present in large numbers in Parliament when the bill is tabled.
This bill is as important as the move to nullify Article 370, he had said to underscore its ideological importance for the saffron party.