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Fears over the Citizenship (Amendment) Act are unfounded


The huge hullabaloo over the CAA is difficult to understand unless it is a cynical campaign to rouse communal passions under the garb of protecting the secular nature of the Constitution. 

The Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) has been passed by Parliament after a thorough debate in both Houses. It is the product of a fully democratic exercise.

The continued opposition from political parties, civil society activists, retired government servants and students to CAA makes little sense to those who have no political axe to grind, no ideological bias, are capable of thinking on their own about the reasons for the amendment and do not believe that protests through open letters to the government are free of political party preferences.

Historical concerns 

The status and condition of religious minorities in Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan is well known. The number of Hindus and Sikhs in these countries has declined steeply over the years. Even today, we have instances in Pakistan of Sikh girls being abducted, forcibly married and converted to Islam. Many Sikhs moved out of Afghanistan during Taliban rule. A significant number of Hindus have migrated from Bangladesh to India before 1971 and afterwards, even if Sheikh Hasina’s government today is protective of minorities.

As far back as 2003, when this writer was Foreign Secretary, we had officially communicated to Bangladesh that in our estimation there were about 20 million illegal Bangladeshi migrants in India. The then Khaleda Zia government was unwilling to acknowledge any such migration and made frivolous responses.

Now, should we differentiate between non-Muslim minorities fleeing Islamic countries because of religious discrimination, physical insecurity and uncertainty about their future, and Muslims migrating to India illegally for better economic opportunities and politically supported demographic infiltration? A rational distinction can be made between Hindus and Sikhs and other minorities seeking their future in India, because they have nowhere else to go, and Muslims from Islamic countries who do have alternative options.

The CAA does this by fast-tracking the acquisition of Indian citizenship by Hindus and Sikhs and others, regulating their status in India and extending all the benefits of citizenship to them. Illegal Muslim migrants can theoretically go back to their country of origin without fear of religious discrimination and physical insecurity, or some other interim solution can be found, once they are properly identified, which is an exercise for later.

The huge hullabaloo over the CAA is difficult to understand unless it is a cynical campaign to rouse communal passions in India under the garb of protecting the secular nature of the Constitution and safeguarding Indian democracy. The Opposition is playing the dangerous game of mobilising Muslims to stage street protests with violence in tow to capitalise on and deepen the existing perception that the Modi-led BJP government is anti-Muslim.

Communal agenda 

The ‘secular’ argument has been carried to an absurd length in demanding that even persecuted Muslims in Islamic and other countries such as the Ahmadis and Rohingyas should be eligible for Indian citizenship.

The Rohingyas have entered India illegally but no Ahmadi has fled Pakistan for safety in India. So, why is the Ahmadi red-herring being drawn? Why not include the Shias in Pakistan targeted by Sunni jihadi groups, the Yazidis and other victims of the Islamic State, or, further away, the victims of Boko Haram from North Africa to prove our secular credentials? Is the Opposition demanding that the Ahmadis who might enter India illegally at some future date should be eligible for Indian citizenship as well? How would this be possible when the cut-off date in the CAA is December 31, 2014? The Rohingyas, as Bengali-speaking Muslims, can be settled in Bangladesh as a fraternal Muslim country. Malaysia, which is fast becoming an Islamic state that feels concerned about Kashmiris, could accept them, just as it has accepted Zakir Naik.

NRC vital to security 

Those clamouring against the CAA in the name of secularism and democracy do not want Hindus, Sikhs and others to benefit from CAA, even if for one time unless the Muslims are also accommodated. Implicitly, they support grant of citizenship to the several million Bangladeshi Muslims who have entered India illegally.

This is the reason why both the National Register of Citizens (NRC) and the National Population Register (NPR) are being vehemently opposed. Established democracies have a detailed database of citizens, with citizenship verification through several means, including national identity cards. This is a vital aspect of sovereignty, national security and governance. Why does the move to establish an NRC abridge India’s democracy in particular? With our porous borders, terrorism concerns and the reality of illegal migration, India desperately needs a citizenship register.

The irony is that with similar social conditions — the absence of birth certificates, poverty and illiteracy — Bangladesh, Pakistan and Nepal have citizenship rolls. They found methodologies to deal with these issues, as we too will. Unfortunately, the debate on CAA (the false secular argument) and NRC (the Assam experience, but from which lessons can be learnt) is becoming too poisoned for the nation’s good. 

(Courtesy of Mail Today)