IMAGE: Congress leader P Chidambaram comes out of Parliament House after the passage of the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2019 by the Rajya Sabha, in New Delhi, on Wednesday. Photograph: Vijay Verma/PTI Photo
Senior Congress leaders P Chidambaram and Kapil Sibal led the opposition offensive against the Citizenship Amendment Bill in Rajya Sabha on Wednesday as they accused the government of bringing in an ‘arbitrary executive fiat’ to push its Hindutva agenda and warned that the proposed law will be struck down by judiciary.
Participating in a debate on the bill in the Upper House, the two eminent lawyers said the the legislation is not legally and morally tenable as it is against the basic principles of the Indian Constitution.
Chidambaram termed the Bill ‘a slap on the face of Parliament’ and said the government is ‘ramming’ through with it in order to advance its Hindutva agenda.
Sibal accused the government of giving a legal colour to the ‘two nation theory’ and urged it not to convert ‘Indian republic into a jurassic republic where there are two dinosaurs’.
He questioned how the government would ascertain whether non-Muslims were persecuted or not as there is no law at present that gives citizenship based on persecution.
The Citizenship Amendment bill was passed in Lok Sabha on Monday.
Opposing the bill in the Upper House, Chidambaram — who is out on bail in the INX media case — sought to know why the bill included only those who faced religious persecution and not persecution based on political reasons, on linguistic grounds, or by religious war.
“This (bill) is a slap on the face of Parliament. Parliamentarians are being asked to do something unconstitutional and then the baby is passed on to the judiciary and in the judiciary, lawyers and judges will decide what you have done is constitutional or not.
“Knowing this is unconstitutional, I am afraid this government is ramming through (with) this bill in order to advance its Hindutva agenda,” he said.
He further said, “Thankfully the government is not amending the Constitution, but only making a law. I am absolutely confident and clear in my mind, this law will be struck down (by the judiciary).”
Terming the bill as ‘unconstitutional and insidious’, Chidambaram sought to know why Sri Lankan Hindus and Bhutanese Christians were excluded in it and added, ‘this exclusionary, inclusionary hyphenation is beyond common sense and logic’.
Chidambaram said the Citizenship Act recognises citizenship by birth, descent, registration, naturalization and incorporation of territory.
“These are universal principles. Now, this Government is introducing a new category called ‘citizenship by arbitrary executive fiat’ and asking this Parliament to support the Government in passing what is patently an unconstitutional law,” the former union minister said
He also dared the government to make public the opinion of the law department and invite the Attorney General to the Upper House to answer all queries.
Hitting back at Home Minister Amit Shah for his remark that the Congress had “divided” the country on the basis of religion, Sibal alleged it was Hindutva ideologue V D Savarkar who had propagated the idea of two-nation theory and the government will be fulfilling it by passing this bill.
“I don’t understand which history books the learned Home Minister has referred to and which authors he has consulted. I would like to remind what Savarkar had said about the two-nation theory. You are going to fulfil it if you are passing it today,” he said and requested the home minister to withdraw his remarks.
On Shah’s remarks that Muslims in India need not fear, Sibal said, “No Muslim in India is afraid of you. Neither I, nor any citizen or any Muslim of this country is afraid of you. We are afraid of only the Constitution, which you are making mockery of.”
Raising objections to the bill, Sibal said, “First, it gives a legal colour to the two nation theory. Two, religion cannot be a factor in acquisition of citizenship that has been rejected by the Constitution of India.”
He said citizenship can be acquired if a person is born in India or parents are born in India or if he/she is an ordinary resident in India.
“There is no fourth concept on the basis of which citizenship can be granted,” he said.
The amended Citizenship Act says that those born after 2004 can get citizenship if one of the parents are born in India and the other one is not an illegal migrant.
“If one of the spouses is an illegal migrant, you cannot be a citizen of India. Now, what amendment you have brought, think about it,” he said.
The government is bringing this bill saying non-Muslim were persecuted.
“Where is the provision for persecution in the bill? When a man came from Bangladesh and Pakistan into India in 1972 and he is an illegal migrant here. How will you say he is persecuted unless he says he is persecuted,” he said.
He said there is no law which says one can apply for citizenship saying they have been persecuted and they shall be granted citizenship.
“There are also other illegal immigrants. I don’t want to say which religion. How do you discriminate from one illegal immigrant from other. How do you know they were persecuted,” he asked.
Sibal said the government is targeting a community without naming it in this bill.
“It is divisive and exclusive which destabilises our polity. It has consequences which you cannot even imagine. It is part of your political strategy. It is not legally and morally tenable,” he added.
Sibal also said, “Those who have no idea of India cannot protect the idea of India. Don’t convert Indian republic into jurassic of republic where there are two dinosaurs.”
Leader of Opposition in Rajya Sabha Ghulam Nabi Azad also asked why the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill does not include Hindus from Sri Lanka and Christians from Bhutan, as he alleged that the government has no data on persecuted minorities in neighbouring countries.
Intervening in the debate, the senior Congress leader also asked that if the entire country was happy with the proposed legislation, why protests were taking place in Assam, Tripura, Arunachal Pradesh, Meghalaya and Nagaland.
“Honourable home minister ji, you brought demonetisation, GST, (legislation on) triple talaq, NRC, Article 370 (related law) and Citizenship (Amendment) Bill in the same pattern. You bring such bills every four or six months to divert the attention of people from unemployment, problems of farmers, poverty….,” Azad said.
The former Union minister also stressed that Muslims too were persecuted in Afghanistan. Muslim women have been persecuted a lot in Afghanistan, he added.
Claiming that lakhs and crores of minorities in Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan have faced religious persecution, Azad took a jibe at Home Minister Amit Shah by saying that the government does not have any authentic data on such people and was befooling the public.
Countering the charges, Bharatiya Janata Party member Subramanian Swamy said in Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan, Hindus, Christians, Buddhists etc., have been singled out for ill-treatment and persecution.
“As far as Ahmadiyas and Shias are concerned, they would any day prefer going to Iran, which is a Shia country, or Bahrain, where Ahmadiyas are accepted as Muslims…so they cannot come into this category.. I don’t think a Pakistani Muslim wants to leave and come to our country. So there is no need to include them also…,” he said.
He added that Sri lankan Tamilians did not come to India because of religious persecution but because there was a full-fledged war.
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