The CAB-NRC package is flawed and dangerous

The CAB-NRC package is flawed and dangerous

Last Wednesday, the Cabinet cleared the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill (CAB). This week it is expected to be tabled in Parliament.

The essence of the bill is simple.

All immigration cases against them will stand abated. They’ll also be eligible for Indian citizenship on an expedited basis, after six decades of residency. There is a caveat. States that need an Inner Line Permit — Nagaland, Mizoram and Arunachal Pradesh — and Sixth Schedule areas in some northeastern states — that include parts of Assam, nearly the whole of Meghalaya, and parts of Tripura — will be exempt. This means those who become citizens availing the new provisions will not have the ability to settle and exercise rights in these regions.

The idea was in the 2014 manifesto of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). It introduced the bill in Parliament during Narendra Modi’s first term in office, but couldn’t get it through the Rajya Sabha. In the 2019 election campaign, the party’s manifesto reiterated its commitment to bring in CAB. The matter assumed greater urgency when the National Register of Citizens (NRC) was upgraded in Assam, leaving out 1.9 million residents, a significant section of whom were Hindus.

What is driving the push for the CAB? For the BJP and the Sangh Parivar, the issue is one of ideological belief. Their logic is straightforward. Hindus in India’s neighbourhood have faced persecution, violence, and hardship. They have nowhere to go but India. These migrants deserve rights and dignity — and where else but in India can they get it?

Among the campaign constants of the BJP is that India is’infested’ with Muslim migrants that are illegal. They have been used to national security and locals by’ secular formations’ at great cost as a vote bank. In Assam particularly, the BJP transformed what was an opinion to an anti-Muslim sentiment and cheered on the NRC process. However, if the outcome emerged, the calculations went. Far too many Hindus were out of the register. CAB provided a solution to this issue.

But promising this resulted in an additional complexity. Northeastern states were furious, for the bitterness there remains deep against’outsiders’ of all religions. They began fearing an influx of more migrants, especially. It was to address this discontent that the BJP has introduced the set of exemptions in the new draft bill. This way, it hopes to strike a balance. Keep the core of the CAB guarantee the northeast — where the BJP is politically dominant — that it won’t be burdened.

The political push also became necessary because of an extra promise the BJP has made — of a nationwide NRC so as to identify taxpayers and’expel’ immigrants. Without the CAB, the NRC happened in Assam, leaving Hindus.

This also had an effect in West Bengal, where the BJP is currently trying to make inroads. Mamata Banerjee was able to make use of fears about the NRC, and exclusion from it to win back the momentum, as seen in the recent bypolls. The plan now is to do the CAB, and then push the NRC, so that non-Muslim people that are left out have a way back in. The party believes that this movement will give the strongest-ever documentation of all its citizens to the state, but will also turn out to be electorally the Hindi heartland and beneficial in Bengal. This is the ideological and political backdrop to the CAB maze. But the move undermines the foundational values and constitutional principles of India and is flawed.

India is a secular country. Religion is not the basis of citizenship. Religion cannot be the basis of discrimination. And the state can’t take decisions based on faith. Muslims are pointedly excluded by the CAB.

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