If the Jammu and Kashmir Reorganisation Act, 2019 was the focus of the monsoon session of Parliament, the winter session that is going to start from Monday is expected to be dominated by a discourse on the Citizenship Amendment Bill.
Why now? The list of bills to be passed during the winter session of Parliament as approved by the government clearly shows The Citizenship (Amendment) Bill (CAB), 2019, at number 16 in the list.
The Bill that is a prerequisite for the BJP government before it moves any further on the nationwide National Register of Citizens (NRC) was shelved in the run-up to the 2019 General Election, after a stiff opposition from the Northeastern states. Now, back with an even bigger mandate of 303 MPs in the Lok Sabha and the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) chief Mohan Bhagwat maintaining pressure on the BJP for a nationwide NRC, the time for introduction of the CAB has come, thinks the government.
What is Citizenship (Amendment) Bill? This bill intends to make it easier for the non-Muslim immigrants from India's three Muslim-majority neighbours -- Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan to become citizens of India. Though the Bill doesn't spell it out clearly, but the fact that it entitles the Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis, and Christians, facing religious persecution in the three nations, to seek the Indian Citizenship and highlights the exclusion of Muslims.
This amendment is of The Citizenship Act, 1955 which requires the applicant to have resided in India for 11 of the previous 14 years. The amendment seeks to relax this requirement from 11 years to 6 years, for Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis, and Christians from the three nations.
The NRC, which identified and eliminated illegal immigrants from Assam on Supreme Court order, had been a longstanding demand of Assam. But ever since its implementation, there has been a growing demand for its nationwide implementation. BJP president Amit Shah raised the pitch for this during his election rallies.
As late as this October, Amit Shah raised the matter in West Bengal, not far from Assam. He had said: "We had brought the Citizenship Amendment Bill in the Rajya Sabha, but the TMC MPs did not allow the Upper House to function. They did not allow the bill to be passed, and due to this, there are people in our country who are yet to get the Indian citizenship."
In Haryana, Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar too made the promise of bringing the NRC in the state during his election campaigning. Even Mohan Bhagwat, the RSS Supremo has been pitching for the same, though behind closed doors.
But, what happened in Assam after the NRC implementation. After the updated final NRC in Assam was released on August 31 this year, it excluded the names of over 19 lakh applicants including Hindu. Now, the CAB will ensure they are not harmed.
In another rally in Bengal, in April this year, Shah had given a peek into his larger plan, "After passing the Bill, we would bring the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, so that all the refugees get citizenship, and then we will bring the NRC to throw out each and every infiltrator."
The Odds against CAB But the bone of contention in this grand plan of the BJP remains not only the opposition which has said it will oppose it once put to vote, but many northeastern states fear that the Bangladeshi immigrants will be settled in their areas, which will unsettle their ethnic uniqueness.
In run up to the 2019 General Election, almost entire Northeast, mostly ruled by the BJP or NDA governments protested. But as a revamped bill is all set to be reintroduced by the Modi government, there are provisions that are said to be included to "protect" the indigenous people or the Northeast. Manipur Chief Minister Biren Singh said: "We trust and have confidence that central leaders will be there to protect the indigenous people of the Northeastern region," during a media interaction in October. As Parliament is all set to convene, he has reiterated his comment.
In the Lok Sabha, the BJP has enough numbers to pass the bill and even in the Rajya Sabha, historically speaking, the BJP has shown that its floor management can gather up the numbers.
However, it may be at the 16th number on the list, the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2019 will be the focus of the winter session of Parliament.