What the Meghalaya Democratic Alliance has referred to as dangerous and what caused vigorous protests in Assam, is the Citizenship Amendment Bill 2016.
With this Bill, the BJP government planned to change the very definition of an illegal migrant. It proposed to provide Indian citizenship to illegal migrants from Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh who are Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Jain, Parsi or Christian. It would also reduce the current requirement of 11 continuous years of stay in India to 6 years to obtain citizenship.
The BJP had promised to grant citizenship to Hindus persecuted in the neighboring countries during the 2014 Elections. In their manifesto, the BJP promised to welcome Hindu refugees and give shelter to them.
According to the Citizenship Act, 1955, an illegal immigrant is a person who enters India without a valid passport or with forged documents, or who stays beyond the visa permit.
What’s the issue?
The Assam Gana Parishad, a coalition partner of BJP, has threatened to cut ties with the party if the Bill is passed because it believes the Bill works against the indigenous people of the State. NGOs and students’ organisations are also in opposition to the Bill.
All Opposition parties, including the Congress and the All India United Democratic Front, have opposed the idea of granting citizenship to an individual on the basis of religion. They argued that the Bill would nullify the updated National Registration of Citizenship (NRC), something the Assam government is currently working on.
The National Register of Citizens (NRC) is meant to identify an authentic citizen. By the order of the Supreme Court of India, NRC is being currently updated in Assam to detect illegal Bangladeshi migrants.
What’s the link?
NRC does not distinguish migrants on religious basis, unlike the Citizenship Bill. NRC aims to deport anyone who entered illegally, but the Citizenship Bill aims to shelter the Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis or Christians. Hence, if the Bill becomes an Act, the non-Muslims need not go through procedures, meaning this will be clearly discriminating against Muslims migrants.
What’s the status?
On January 8, 2019, the Lok Sabha passed the bill. The Congress stages a walkout in opposition to the Bill and is likely to propose to send it to a select committee.
The center says the amendment is for migrants who came through the eastern and western borders and are staying in India. The burden will be shared by the entire country, with the center willing to help to implement it.
Many refer to it as BJP’s attempt to win popular support before Elections 2019; other have named the act an attempt of BJP to fulfill their promises. Amidst a plethora of unpopular judgements by the Indian government in the recent years, this could perhaps be another of the kind.