Cabinet clears amendment to grant citizenship to non-Muslim refugees

Citizenship bill likely to be tabled in parliament next week, Amit Shah allays fears
File Photo: Union Home Minister Amit Shah with BJP leaders.

New Delhi: The Union Cabinet has cleared the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill that seeks to grant citizenship to non-Muslim refugees from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan if they faced religious persecution there, sources said on Wednesday.

The BJP leadership had underscored the significance of the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill by equating its importance with the move to nullify Article 370 provisions, with senior leader Rajnath Singh asking party MPs to be present in large numbers when Home Minister Amit Shah tables it in Parliament next week.

Rejecting the opposition's criticism of the the Citizenship Bill, which seeks to grant citizenship to non-Muslim refugees from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan if they faced religious persecution there, Singh asserted that the BJP has always worked to unite the country and its people. 

Singh also made a reference to the charge that the bill was against secularism as its beneficiaries excluded Muslims. He said the three neighbouring countries were essentially Islamic nations and so it is non-Muslims and not Muslims who are at the receiving end of religious persecution there.

He urged the BJP MPs to be present in Parliament in large numbers when Amit Shah tables the bill, which Singh believed is likely to be cleared by the Union Cabinet on Wednesday.

Union Home Minister Amit Shah had on Saturday held discussions with leaders of political parties, students bodies and civil society groups of Assam, Arunachal Pradesh and Meghalaya on the contours of the proposed CAB and listened to their views, sources said.

Chief Ministers of Assam, Arunachal Pradesh and Meghalaya Sarbananda Sonowal, Pema Khandu and Conrad Sangma respectively, Union minister Kiren Rijiju, several MPs attended the meetings separately.

Sonowal said the consultations carried out by Shah will allay all apprehensions on the CAB.

"This is a very honest and democratic approach of taking along every section of people of the Northeast. I am sure those who have attended the meetings with the home minister felt assured of the central government's commitments towards the region,” Sonowal said.

Most regional parties and civil society groups raised the issue of how CAB could affect the tribals.

Sources said the home minister is learnt to have indicated to them that the CAB may not affect the tribal areas protected by the Inner Line Permit (ILP) regime and those who are governed under the Sixth Schedule of the Constitution.

These areas may be exempted from the ambit of the proposed bill, Shah is believed to have conveyed to the delegations, sources said.

An election promise of the BJP in the 2014 and the 2019 Lok Sabha polls, the bill seeks to amend the Citizenship Act, 1955, in order to grant Indian nationality to Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis and Christians, who come to India due to religious persecution in Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan even if they don't possess proper documents.

A large section of people and a few organisations in the Northeast have opposed the bill, saying it will nullify the provisions of the Assam Accord of 1985, which fixed March 24, 1971, as the cut-off date for deportation of all illegal immigrants irrespective of religion.

The Congress, Trinamool Congress, Communist Party of India (Marxist) and a few other political parties have been steadfastly opposing the bill, claiming that citizenship can't be given on the basis of religion.

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