New Delhi: Ahead of the Citizenship Amendment Bill (CAB)’s tabling in the Parliament, Assam minister Himanta Biswa Sarma on Wednesday blamed Pakistan for not being a secular nation, thus forcing India to draft a legislation that allows persecuted minorities to settle here.
“If Pakistan was a secular nation then India would not require the CAB. It is because of religious persecution in Pakistan that we have had to do this,” he told CNN News18 in an exclusive interview.
Following two-day long discussions between home minister Amit Shah and representatives of students’ bodies and civil society groups of Assam, the union cabinet cleared the contentious citizenship legislation on Wednesday. It will be taken up in the Parliament next week, sources have told News18.
The Assam minister and the BJP’s main man in the northeast said Shah met “600 individuals belonging to 150 groups” spending more than 100 hours in consultations.
“I am sure people will not have a problem with CAB when the final Bill will be made public. There is a common ground for various minority groups in CAB,” he added.
The Bill, which proposes to amend the original Citizenship Act of 1956, seeks to grant Indian citizenship to non-Muslim refugees from Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan if they have fled their respective country due to religious persecution. It also proposes to reduce the mandated 11 years of residence in India for citizenship eligibility to six years.
This legislation has received considerable flak over it exclusion of Muslim migrants, which is likely to cause an upheaval in the north east.
However, Sarma defended the sectarian label of the Bill. “How can you say that we are being anti-Muslim; only because we are allowing people facing persecution in other countries to settle here? We are not isolating Indian Muslims,” he said.
“India cannot open its door to every type of persecution. But we have put in a clause for religious persecution provided it can be proven,” he added.
Recently, controversy erupted in Assam when the BJP-led state government rejected the final National Register of Citizens (NRC) published on August 31. Sarma supported the Centre and the BJP’s vision for passing the Citizenship Amendment Bill before a nationwide NRC exercise.
Citing that the Comptroller and Auditor General of India (CAG) has found “huge irregularities” in the NRC, the minister also rejected the historic Assam Accord — the document that is the basis for the state’s anti-immigrant struggle.
Sarma told CNN News18 that the “NRC was not perfect but it did detect 19 lakh illegals.” According to his estimates, 5.40 lakh in the final list are Hindu minorities and out of them at least 2-3 lakh will get their correct status once the Foreigners Tribunals finish their procedures.
On the question of unrest among multiple state government, civil society organisations and student groups in the northeast on the Bill, Sarma said: “Many states in northeast are happy. Leaders from these states have also expressed their happiness. But yes, there are some groups who are not happy like Congress.”
The northeast states witnessed the resurgence of demonstrations led by the opposition, youth and civil society groups, after the CAB was listed in the Parliament’s items of business, months after tension on the issue abated.
Shah’s two-day long discussions with various stakeholders comes days after Meghalaya chief minister Conrad Sangma on November 22 met Shah in Delhi and discussed the “need for proper consultation and the need to engage with stakeholders”, to which Shah agreed.
Nevertheless, Sarma said that their allies in the region were intact – assuring that they have the people’s mandate to bring in CAB.
“My job is to keep our allies in NE intact…and you will see that they will be intact. Keeping allies does not mean that we will not do our job,” he said.
The Assam minister, however, attacked West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee for opposing the CAB. He asked her to “read the legislation” properly. “The CAB will not give Bengali Hindus a status of refugee. Rather they will be given citizenship,” he said.
“If citizenship through a Parliamentary procedure is not enough then Mamata should provide a solution,” he added.
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