A copy of the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, or CAB, which seeks to fast-track the grant of Indian citizenship to religious minorities from Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan, was distributed among members of Parliament on Friday morning for them to study it.
The Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2019, seeks to give Indian citizenship to Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis and Christians from the three neighbouring countries if they entered India from the three nearby countries on or before December 31, 2014.
The bill seeks to amend the Citizenship Act of 1955 but is likely to stoke protests in the northeastern region that has long complained of an influx of illegal immigrants and opposed a previous version of the bill earlier this year.
The bill was cleared by the Cabinet on Wednesday and is likely to be introduced in the Lok Sabha on December 9. It will be taken up for passage the next day, government sources said on Thursday.
After clearing the Lok Sabha, the bill will go to the Rajya Sabha or Upper House of Parliament. The BJP-led National Democratic Alliance has an absolute majority in the Lower House. The Opposition, which is stronger in the Rajya Sabha, hopes to stall the bill in the Upper house.
The Congress-led opposition has started reaching out to possible supporters to resist the proposed legislation but is wary that many fence-sitters may ultimately side with the government.
As of now, the Congress, Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK), Left parties, Telugu Desam Party (TDP) and Delhi’s ruling Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) are committed to opposing the bill.
And on Thursday, the Bahujan Samaj Party’s (BSP) chief Mayawati spoke against the bill clarifying her party’s stand on the issue.
Mayawati has said that her party is against the bill in its current form and suggested the Centre to send it to the parliamentary committee. She said that the Centre has brought CAB in a hurry and it is “unconstitutional and divisive”.
Mayawati asserted that if the central government takes decisions in favour of the welfare of people, the BSP will support it just the way the party supported abrogation of Article 370 in Jammu and Kashmir.
But many fence-sitters and even parties otherwise critical of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led government haven’t firmed up their stance, leaving the Congress guessing about what position they would ultimately take.
A senior Congress strategist said the party would try and get the bill sent to a select committee for scrutiny even as government managers have indicated during informal interactions that they want the CAB to be passed in the ongoing session.
Trinamool Congress’s (TMC) Rajya Sabha floor leader Derek O’Brien refused to spell out the party’s stand on the bill. “…from what we know, the BJP is bringing the bill for cheap, narrow gains. We will spell out our stand on the floor of the House,” he said.
The TMC has 13 members in the current 238-member Upper house.
The Biju Janata Dal, which has seven MPs in the Upper House, is also undecided.
“Only after the bill comes to the House will our leader Naveen Patnaik take a call,” said Amar Patnaik, senior party leader in the Rajya Sabha.
The senior Congress strategist added that Samajwadi Party has indicated it would oppose the bill and Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS) signalled its intent to join the Opposition. “The response of the TRS is the best news for us,” he said.
Meanwhile, a BJP leader, who is also a member of the Rajya Sabha where the BJP and its allies have 116 seats, said the party is confident of getting the support of 122 MPs and is expecting more. The current strength of the House is 238.
The Congress has so far maintained that it is opposed to CAB on the basis of religion. But the party on Wednesday said it will formulate its stand on the bill after going through the draft.
“We will have to see in what form, manner the bill is brought, then we will decide on our stand…,” Congress leader in the Lok Sabha Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury said.
The BJP had exploited fissures within the opposition ranks and managed to clear two landmark bills and the resolution to scrap Article 370 in the last session.
The triple talaq bill and the one to bifurcate Jammu and Kashmir state was cleared as the opposition bench was divided.
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