Several parts of northeast India plunged into chaos as massive protests were held against the controversial bill which offers Indian citizenship to non-Muslim refugees from three countries.

Amid protests and internet shutdowns Rajya Sabha passes Citizenship Amendment Bill
news Citizenship Amendment Bill Wednesday, December 11, 2019 - 20:47

Rajya Sabha passed the controversial Citizenship (Amendment) Bill on Wednesday, amid heavy criticism by opposition leaders and protests across the country. The Bill enables non-Muslim refugees — Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Jain, Parsi and Christian refugees from three countries (Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan) to apply for Indian citizenship.

A division of votes in the House saw 125 voting in favour of the Bill while 105 voted against it.

Opposition parties including the Congress, DMK, TMC and others objected to the Bill in the Rajya Sabha, stating that it was against the foundational principles of the country. Protests against the Bill have rocked parts of the country, mainly in Assam, Tripura, Arunachal Pradesh, Manipur and Meghalaya.

Initiating the debate on the Bill, Congress leader Anand Sharma attacked the BJP saying the manifesto of any political party cannot be above the Constitution of India.

Congress MPs Chidambaram and Kapil Sibal argued that the Bill was against the idea of India and undermined the country's secular nature while DMK's Trichy Siva proposed amendments to include Muslims and Sri Lankan Tamils.

Trinamool Congress MP Derek O'Brien too termed the Bill as unconstitutional and warned of people's movement against the Bill. He also said it would be challenged in the Supreme Court. In a scathing attack on the BJP, he said the present bill has been drawn from "Nazi Coffee Book" and is part of BJP's "agenda."

Samajwadi Party MP Javed Ali Khan said through the proposed legislation, the BJP was fulfilling the dream of Muhammad Ali Jinnah, the founder of Pakistan.

BJP ally and Tamil Nadu’s ruling party, AIADMK supported the Bill.

Naga People’s Front (NPF) MP KG Kenye supported the contentious Bill, saying the issue had been taken off the context completely. The support from Nagaland MP is significant for the government given many parts of the Northeast have seen violent protests against the bill.

Meanwhile, former BJP ally Shiv Sena, which had supported the Bill in the Lok Sabha, withdrew support and lashed out at the BJP over Hindutva politics. The party walked out of the Rajya Sabha prior to voting.

Several MPs of opposition parties moved a motion to send the Citizenship Amendment Bill to the select committee of the Upper House. MPs like KK Ragesh and Trichy Siva moved amendments to the proposed Bill. While Ragesh sought to refer the Bill to a select committee, Tiruchy Siva proposed adding Muslims and Sri Lankan Tamils to the ambit of the legislation. However, these were negatived.

Providing an explanation on why Muslims were not included, Amit Shah said, "When the state religion itself is Islam, the chances of them facing persecution are less."

The Bill was earlier passed in the Lok Sabha with 311 MPs voting in favour and 80 voting against. The legislation now awaits Presidential assent.

Speaking in support of the Bill, Union Home Minister Amit Shah said on Monday that non-Muslim refugees from the three nations often face religious persecution in their countries and so India will provide them a safe haven to stay.

Opposition leaders questioned the logic and asked why, if the government wanted to protect minorities in neighbouring countries, the Bill did not include groups like Rohingya Muslims from Myanmar, Ahmadi and Shia Muslims in Pakistan and Sri Lankan Tamils, who also face persecution and are forced to flee their homeland. It is not just non-Muslims who face persecution in these countries, but different sects of Muslims too.

Opposition leaders have pointed out that the legislation would not stand scrutiny by the Supreme Court.

Meanwhile, many in the northeastern states have staged massive protests over the Bill. Their main concern is the entry of Hindu migrants from Bangladesh, which they say will threaten the identity of indigenous communities.

(With inputs from PTI)

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