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Govt of India seeks to pursue unfinished agenda of "RSS-backed" two-nation theory

Counterview Desk
Three members of Parliament, who are part of the 30-member Joint Parliamentary Committee that compiled the report clearing the controversial Citizenship Amendment Bill of 2016, have submitted their dissent notes, saying that the right to Indian citizenship cannot be religion specific or country of origin specific.
Chaired by Rajendra Agarwal of the BJP, the committee, consisting of 10 MPs from the Rajya Sabha and 20 MPs from the Lok Sabha, appointed on August 11, 2016, submitted its reports on January 3. The Bill has been passed in the Lok Sabha, and is pending before the Rajya Sabha.
The MPs -- Mohammad Salim of the Communist Party of India (Marxist), Bhartruhari Mahtab of the Biju Janata Dal and Javed Ali Khan of the Samajwadi Party -- objected to the Bill seeking to amend the Citizenship Act of 1955 in order to grant citizenship to Hindus, Buddhists, Sikhs, Jains, Parsis and Christians from Bangladesh, Afghanistan and Pakistan if they have lived in India for six years, even if they do not possess the necessary documents.
The current regulation stipulates that “citizenship of India by naturalisation can be acquired by a foreigner (not illegal migrant) who is ordinarily resident in India for twelve years”.

Excerpts from the dissenting note by Mohammad Salim:

The tardy, even selective manner of functioning of the Committee is a matter of concern. The very purpose of such Committees --constituted to review and critique proposed amendments to Indian statutes-- are meant to be consultative, not mere symbolic tokenisms that reduce the process to a farce. The Committee on such a vital issue such as Citizenship that draws its Rights and Base from the Indian Constitution and ought to have been treated with both substantive rigour and procedural correctitude.
For three years since its constitution, this Committee on the Citizenship Amendment Bill, 2016, never took the task seriously despite the fact that it was constituted on an all important issue. For months together, the Committee never met, when it did so in quick succession and abruptly like last 10 days during Winter Session.
Most Importantly, the discussions and consultations with stakeholders have been reduced to a complete farce. The states of West Bengal, Tripura, Jharkand, Orissa, Andamans were never visited. The visits to these states were required and the absence therein is stark especially given the fact that this is where, mainly Bengali speaking migrants live.
There was one almost wholly aborted trip to Assam, a troubled visit, where in all the rest of the places internal Bengali migrant are being subjected to harassment. This will enhance this harassment especially the target will be Bengali Muslims as is possibly intended by a regime that is governed by a supremacist and majoritarian ideology.
The manner in which pre-organised memoranda (copies and single page xeroxes) near identical in their thousands (mainly from Assam, some from Kolkata) were collectively submitted by fly by night operators to make a show of the fact that people have been consulted further reduced the consultative nature of the committee to a mere farce.
Indian citizenship is a fundamental right and premise drawn from India's Constitution that is republican and secular. Indian citizenship is based on the fundamental premise of equality of all regardless of gender, caste, class, community, region or language, principles enshrined in the Preamble, Citizenship Provisions (Articles 5 to 11) and the Fundamental Rights.
Besides the guiding principle of India has been the Principle of Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam that has meant that all persecuted peoples, be it Jews, Yemenese, Parsees (Zorastrians), Iranians, Afganis, Tibetans, Bangladeshis, have all found home here.
This amendment does not offer solutions to the issues and problems that the country is facing around but will actually create more problems. Divisiveness and suspicions between peoples and languages will mount. According to the proposed amendment, citizenship will now be determined on the language and religion (and country of origin) of the proposed applicants.
This actually meets the ideological persuasion of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) that regards this move as "the unfinished agenda of partition." India and the sub-continent has already lived through one holocaust caused by religious divisions. This will create again the potential of several mini-holocausts of the kind Nellie, Assam has seen in 1983 and other parts of India have also witnessed.
The proposed amendment extends an open invitation to all Hindus from persecuted neighbouring countries, and the underlying threat is that it is Muslims who can be sent off, or reduced to pathetic conditions in detention camps, or face inhuman treatment as usual suspects.
The Bill proposes citizenship to six persecuted minorities — Hindus, Jains, Sikhs, Parsis, Christians and Buddhists — from Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh who came to India before 2014. Dissenting opposition members have argued for the inclusion of all refugees and persecuted persons, whether from the above-mentioned countries or even 'Sri Lanka or Myanmaar.'
The implications of the committee having cleared an amendment moved by BJP MP Meenakshi Lekhi seeking to drop legal proceedings against six persecuted minorities, is potentially disstrous and discriminatory. The amendment, if accepted, could mean that Bangladeshi Hindus lodged in detention centres in Assam, facing deportation or declared illegal foreigners, would get relief, while their compatriots, simply because they are Muslims, would face hardships and persecution.
In fact, the proposed Bill will ensure complete institutionalised incarceration and persecution of the Rohingyas facing acute persecution from Myanmar and not being offered any succour even by Bangladesh.
The proposed amendment, in its current formulation, seeks to exclude undocumented immigrants belonging to certain minority communities from Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan (all majority-Muslim countries) — Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis and Christians — from the category of illegal migrants, making them eligible to apply for Indian citizenship.
The list of religious minorities inexplicably excludes Muslim groups like the Ahmadis, who are also among the most persecuted religious minority in Pakistan. This essentially means that, while non-Muslim migrants become eligible for Indian citizenship, Muslims are denied this right.
There has been a strong resistance to the Bill in the BJP-ruled Assam as it would pave the way for giving citizenship, mostly to illegal Hindu migrants from Bangladesh, who came to Assam after March 1971, in violation of the agreement in the Assam Accord of 1985. The BJP government in Assam is fiercely opposed to the Bill. The BJP’s ally Asom Gana Parishad too has been protesting against it and has threatened to walk out of the alliance if the Bill is passed.
Over 40 lakh people in Assam have been excluded from the final draft of the National Register of Citizens (NRC) published in July 2018. Reports suggests that 33 lakh of those excluded have successfully re-applied. The underlying intent of the proposed amendment is to ensure that those 'Hindu Bengalis' excluded from the NRC are promised (whether or not this is eventually legally or Constitutionally valid) to be brought in through the Citizenship Bill amendment. The socio political outcome will be disastrous: People within Assamand Bengal if not elsehwere will be divided, again. between the 'Hindu' and the 'Muslim.'
Betrayal of the Assam Accord
There is a deep-rooted contradiction in the Bill as regards the terms of the Assam Accord — which calls for repatriation of all migrants irrespective of religion who arrived after March 24, 1971 — and this remains unresolved. The terms of the NRC will exclude Hindus from Bangladesh but they will be covered by the provisions of the Bill.
The JPC’s decision to apparently ride roughshod over political debate and opposition is yet another example of this dispensation pushing through legislation without necessary political debate. In this instance, the ruling party appears unwilling and unprepared to engage in a serious public debate on an issue that involves how the membership in the nation is defined. Winning elections by any means necessary is its priority.
Assam today, because of the controversial NRC process, sits on a tinder box, a volcano. These proposed amendment to the Citizenship Act will only inflame the situation further causing unimaginable social turmoil and even targeted violence.
For the present central leadership of the Bharaitya Janata Party (BJP) and the RSS, this basic alteration of Indian citizenship is in line with what they see as the unfinished business of the Partition. They believe that Indian citizenship laws should recognize a right of return for Hindus from Pakistan and Bangladesh to India, similar to the right of Jews to return to Israel, or of ethnic Germans to Germany.
The proposed amendment will do nothing short of foment political, religious, linguistic and ethnic divisions. Those of this dominating persuasion are unhappy with the Indian Constitution’s unequivocal rejection of the two-nation theory.
Today, based on the fundamentals of equality and non-discrimination within the constitution, Indian law cannot distinguish between Hindu and Muslim arrivals from Pakistan and Bangladesh. The real purpose of the citizenship amendment Bill seems to be to introduce this distinction into India’s citizenship laws.
The BJP’s 2014 manifesto rather crudely states that “India shall remain a natural home for persecuted Hindus and they shall be welcome to seek refuge here.” Such a statement mimics the policy of only one other country, Israel — which sees itself as a sanctuary for Jews who are given an automatic right to enter the country and earn citizenship.
In the paragraphs preceding this ill-considered statement in its 2014 manifesto, the BJP praised its “NRIs, PIOs and professionals settled abroad” who are a “vast reservoir to articulate the national interests and affairs globally.” The hypocrisy is patent. These NRIs and PIOs are able to live in these countries because of the relatively liberal immigration policies of their countries of residence. The BJP’s concern, in its manifesto, is only for middle-class and upper-class professionals (they, too, Hindu), and it provides no reassurances for the Indian workers across the world whose remittances support their families and Indian foreign exchange balances.
In the early 1980s, xenophobic utterances — fiercely anti-Bangladeshi statements — had catalyzed targeted pogroms in Assam, where BJP now rules, but dictated its political consolidation in other parts of “mainstream” India. This occurred even as the term “Bangladeshi” was deliberately collapsed at really meaning “Muslim,” just as the terms “Pakistani,” “Muslim” and “anti-patriotic/national” are potently expressed interchangeably.
Re-Look at India's Refugee Policy
More than anything else, a closer look at India’s refugee policy is in order. We are neither a signatory to the United Nations’ 1951 refugee convention nor its 1967 protocol. The reasons why India did not join these is based on a genuine understanding of the state of affairs then — the 1951 convention defined “refugees” as Europeans who had to be re-settled and suggested that “refugees” were those who fled the “non-free world” for the “free world.”
It was in December 1950, at the UN’s third committee, that Vijaylakshmi Pandit (sister of Jawaharlal Nehru, India’s first prime minister) objected to the Euro-centrism of the definition of refugee.“Suffering knows no racial or political boundaries; it is the same for all,” she said.“As international tension increases, vast masses of humanity might be uprooted and displaced.”
The refugee crisis across the world is now severe for reasons of war and economic distress. Three years later, the foreign secretary, R.K. Nehru, told the UNHCR representative that the UN agency helped refugees from “the so-called non-free world into the free world. We do not recognize such a division of the world.”
Despite of its reluctance to join these international conventions, India has obligations under international law. India has signed onto the 1967 UN Declaration on Territorial Asylum and the 1948 UN Declaration of Human Rights. Even though it is not a member of the 1951 refugee convention that frames the work of the UNHCR, India is on its executive committee, which supervises the agency’s material assistance programme.
Following this international human rights law, the Indian Supreme Court ruled in 1996 that refugees could not be forcibly repatriated because of the protections to life and personal liberty in Article 21 of the Indian Constitution.
India’s current refugee policy is governed by the Foreigners Act of 1946 that does not even use the term “refugee.” Without a clear-cut policy, Indian governments have, over the years, dealt with different refugee populations depending on their political worldview at the time. For example, India’s treatment of Tibetans confirms to its relationship with China.
It is this absence of a cohesive refugee policy that set the ground for Operation Pushback in the 1990s, which used the Bangladeshi refugees as a tool for communal politics. And today, this is dictating a political desire to fundamentally alter Indian citizenship law.
Today, in 2019, when India’s parliament seeks to fundamentally alter the very basis of Indian citizenship laws, and may even do this without honouring Indian federalism, the implications of the change are huge for the country and subcontinent.
The Indian Constitution’s rejection of the two-nation theory is crucially important for the status of Indian Muslims as equal citizens.
The proposed amendment will impact not only the sense of security of Indian Muslims, but also the future security of Hindus in Bangladesh, and the credibility of India’s historical position on the Kashmir question. A hard national question across the political spectrum is in order. The implications of the bill are far more profound, ill conceived and downright dangerous.
I therefore demand, in this Dissent Note, that this Bill must be withdrawn.

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