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What is Citizenship Amendment Bill and why is Assam opposing it?

Simply, the citizenship amendment bill allows illegal migrants from Afghanistan, Pakistan and Bangladesh who are non-muslim to be Indian citizens. 

 

Adding to the list of allies deserting the National Democratic Alliance is the coalition partner of BJP in one of the key north-eastern state: Assam Gana Parishad. On Tuesday, the party announced that it will no longer be a part of BJP-led NDA. Two days later, the ministers from the party also pulled out of the Assam Cabinet led by Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonwal.  The ministers who reigned are Agriculture Minister Atul Bora who is also the AGP president, Water Resources Minister Keshav Mahanta and Food and Civil Supplies Minister Phanibhushan Choudhury. The three ministers submitted their resignations to the Assam Chief Minister at the state secretariat along with 11 other MLAs.

Assam Gana Parishad breaking ties is expected to be a major setback for the BJP in north-east especially at a time when the party is pushing the North East democratic Alliance for deeper penetration in the region. But why has the Assam Gan Parishad after giving a stable government for three years in Assam decided to sever ties with the BJP? The reason is the Citizenship Amendment Bill. the Bill was introduced by the Modi government in Lok Sabha in 2016. This new bill seeks to amend the original Citizenship Act of 1955. The Citizenship Amendment bill was passed in lok sabha in the recent winter session. Now, before moving on to what is it about the amendment bill that made Assam Gana Parishad leave BJP, let us see what exactly is the Citizenship Act.

Citizenship
Image Source: Web

This act describes and defines who are citizens of India and how can it be decided whether a person is a citizen of India or not. It also lays down the criteria one needs to fulfil in order to be an Indian citizen and under which circumstances the citizenship can be revoked.

The ambit of the act is wider, but we are focusing on the part which the government seeks to amend. which is citizenship by naturalisation. This part of the act deals with the citizenship of non-Indian person that comes with the time period he has spent in the country and the kind of service he has offered to the nation. The detailed description of the Citizenship act can be found on the Foreigners Division of Ministry of Home Affairs portal. In the same act, the schedule three provides criteria of eligibility for the citizenship by naturalization. There are total seven criteria for eligibility that one needs to fulfil in this case. For example, a person seeking citizenship in India should not belong to a country where Indians are not allowed to be a citizen by law or by culture. He should have renounced the citizenship of his country and has followed the legal procedure of the same and informed the country’s government about the same. he is of good character etc.

Citizenship
Image Source: Web

Further, the act states: That the person seeking citizenship has either resided in India or been in the service of a Government in India or partly the one and partly the other, throughout the period of twelve months immediately preceding the date of the application and That during the fourteen years] immediately preceding the said period of twelve months, he has either resided in India or been in the service of a Government in India, or partly the one and partly the other, for periods amounting in the aggregate to not less than eleven years].

Now the new bill amends the Citizenship Act, 1955 to make illegal migrants who are Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis and Christians from Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan, eligible for citizenship.  Simply, illegal migrants from these three countries who are non-muslim can now be Indian citizens. The Citizenship Amendment Bill also relaxes the 11-year requirement mentioned in the original act to six years for non-muslim illegal migrants from these three countries. As the bill defines eligibility on the grounds of religion,  The experts argue that this is in violation of Article 14 of the Indian constitution that guarantees right to equality.

Citizenship
Image Source: Web

The Illegal migrants may be imprisoned or deported under the Foreigners Act, 1946 and the Passport (Entry into India) Act, 1920.  these two Acts empower the central government to regulate the entry, exit and residence of foreigners within India.

However, according to the PIB notification of September 7, 2015; the Indian government ordered that the members of the six religions mentioned above be exempted from the provisions of these two acts. The notification further states that the illegal migrants who are minorities from Pakistan and Bangladesh be who have entered India before or on December 31, 2014, are exempted from the acts.

Citizenship
Image Source: Web

Now, these are the two amendments that upset the Assam Gana Parishad. In Assam, too the bill is facing much resistance and causing a streak of protests as the state’s politics is based on Assamese sub-nationalism that takes pride in the region’s culture and language. The illegal migrants from Bangladesh whether Muslim and Non-muslim are viewed as outsiders to this culture. There is fear among the population that this Bengali-speaking illegal migrant if rises, can hurt the demographics of the state and can take over the linguistic and cultural identity. In terms of percentage, Assam has the country’s second highest  Muslim population after Jammu & Kashmir. Muslims, mostly ..  Bengali-speaking, comprise 34% of Assam’s little over 3 crore people. Assamese-speaking Muslims, who are minuscule in number support campaigns against migrants from all religious denominations.

Citizenship
Image Source: Web

Thus, there had also been the demand for an updated NRC in the state. The Assam Accord which was signed in 1985, had marked mid-night of 24th March 1971 as the cut-off date for granting citizenship to people who have come illegally to India from Bangladesh. It was decided that people who are originally Bangladeshi and have been staying in India illegally should be detected and deported to Bangladesh.  Nearly 30 years later, a lot of key clauses are yet to be implemented by the government. This has been a major political issue in Assam. With the new Citizenship amendment bill amending the two key aspects of the Assam accord, there has been a state of discontent in Assam. Not only AGP that is opting out of the NDA, but more allied parties in the northeast may walk out of NDA over the same issue.

At a time when BJP’s longstanding alliance partners are deserting it, losing alliances in the northeast is definitely not a good sign for the party ahead of 2019.

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