Editorial: Citizens first

The Lok Sabha passed the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, which seeks to provide Indian citizenship to non-Muslim refugees coming from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan after facing religious persecution there, a little past midnight on Monday after a heated debate that lasted over seven hours. The Bill, which was passed in the Lok Sabha with 311 members favouring it and 80 voting against it, will now be tabled in the Rajya Sabha for its nod. Several amendments brought by opposition members, including one by a Shiv Sena MP, were defeated either by voice vote or division.

According to the proposed legislation, members of Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Jain, Parsi and Christian communities, who have come from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan, till December 31, 2014 facing religious persecution there, will not be treated as illegal immigrants but given Indian citizenship. In a hard-hitting reply to the debate on the proposed legislation, Union Home Minister Amit Shah said people belonging to any religion should not have any fear under the Modi government as he asserted that the bill will give relief to those minorities who have been living a painful life after facing persecution in neighbouring countries.

Shah also said the Modi government will definitely implement the National Register of Citizens (NRC) across the country and when it will be done, not a single illegal immigrant will remain in the country. Shah said there is a difference between illegal immigrants and those who have come after facing religious persecution in the three neighbouring countries. ‘No one should have any fear of being persecuted under the Narendra Modi government,’ he said after nearly seven-hour-long debate which was marked by fiery speeches by MPs belonging to both the opposition and the ruling alliance. The Home Minister said had India not been divided on religious lines in 1947, there was no need for the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill. ‘Muslim population in India has increased from 9.8 per cent in 1951 to 14.8 per cent in 2011 while the Hindu population has decreased from 84 per cent in 1951 to 79 per cent in 2011. Whereas, the minority population in Pakistan has decreased from 23 per cent in 1947 to 3.7 per cent in 2011. Similarly minority population in Bangladesh has decreased from 22 per cent in 1947 to 7 per cent in 2011,’ he said, adding India does not discriminate against anyone on the basis of religion. India is always a land of equality and will continue to set an example to other countries with its equal treatment to people from different faiths.

NT Bureau