New Delhi: The Citizenship (Amendment) Bill cleared the Rajya Sabha hump on Wednesday, with 125 voting for it and 105 against, two days after it cruised through the lower house.
Tabled by Union Home Minister Amit Shah, the Bill was slammed by rights groups as well as opposition parties on the ground that it has an inherent bias against Muslim migrants and violates the mandate of equality contained in Article 14 of the Constitution.
The legislation is now likely face a legal challenge in the Supreme Court on the ground of being "unconstitutional".
‘‘A landmark day for India and our ethos of compassion and brotherhood! This bill will alleviate the suffering of many who faced persecution for years," PM Modi tweeted soon after the Bill was passed.
Interestingly, after blowing hot and cold, the Uddhav Thackeray-led Shiv Sena walked out of the House ahead of voting on the Bill, thereby assisting the BJP in fending off the challenge in the Upper House. Sena justified its stand by couching it in the "larger interests of the country".
Home Minister Amit Shah refuted the charge of anti-Muslim bias, pointing out that even Muslims from the three neighbouring countries had been given citizenship in the past five years by the Modi government and their number should be more than 500.
Shah said there are lakhs and crores of persecuted persons but they won't admit they are illegal refugees, but once the law is enacted, it will give them the confidence to admit to the injustice done to them in their original countries and seek citizenship.
He said India has been giving citizenship to different populations from different countries and as such he was not doing something for the first time.
The Bill seeks to recognise those who are living in India as refugees after leaving Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan following persecution.Shah reiterated that the Bill had to be brought because the country's partition had created adverse repercussions.
He refuted the Opposition's charge that the BJP was bringing the Bill for advancing its political agenda, pointing out that there are no elections for four-and-a-half years; he also insisted that India's partition was on the basis of religion, forcing the enactment of a Bill to protect those persecuted by the neighbouring Islamic countries.
The Opposition led by the Congress fought tooth and nail as the debate on the Citizenship Bill raged for over seven hours, even as an adamant Government rejected their demand to send the proposed legislation to a House committee.
Senior Congress leader P Chidambaram questioned why only religious persecution was taken as a ground for granting refugees the status of citizens.
This is an unreasonable classification since there can be many reasons, including political persecution. He said the Bill would not stand the legal test in the Supreme Court.
Accusing the government of pushing its Hindutva agenda, Chidambaram dared the government to invite the Attorney General to the House to answer the Opposition's pointed questions.
Taking off on his previous day's remark that MPs are abdicating their responsibility to let the judiciary be the final arbiter, Chidambaram said: "We are elected representatives.
We are supposed to look at the constitutionality of the law. But what are we doing in this House? We are abdicating our primary responsibilities. We will be throwing this law into the laps of judges who are not elected.
"Law Minister Prasad asserted that the Bill was vetted by the law ministry and as such the opposition members were questioning its legal sanctity without any rhyme or reason.
Opposition leader Ghulam Nabi Azad nailed the Home Minister's repeated lie that the Bill will benefit lakhs and crores of persecuted persons, pointing out that the official figures show that no more than 4,000 people have applied for citizenship. He challenged Shah to give details of these refugees living in each state.
He asked why the persecuted minority of Burma was left out, nor did the government see the persecution going on in Afghanistan. Azad also pointed out that Assam is burning because of the Bill, so much so that trains have been cancelled, the Army has been deployed and Guwahati has been put under curfew.