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Parliament clears Citizenship Bill

New Delhi: The Rajya Sabha on Wednesday passed the contentious Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, completing the legislative process for giving Indian citizenship to non-Muslim migrants from Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh, with Home Minister Amit Shah asserting that Indian Muslims have nothing to fear, as they will not be affected by the law.

The Opposition termed the Bill, which was passed by the Lok Sabha on Monday, as “unconstitutional”, “divisive” and “an assault on the democratic and secular fabric of the nation.”

As many as 125 MPs voted in favour of the Bill in the Upper House and 99 against it, according to Rajya Sabha sources.

BJP’s former ally Shiv Sena, which made all the noises of opposing the Bill on grounds that it ignored citizenship for migrants from other neighbouring nations, made a quite exit from the House just before the voting. Earlier, Shah had taken a dig at Sena asking what made it change its stand overnight after supporting the Bill in Lok Sabha.

Besides NDA constituents such as the JD-U, Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) and AIADMK, the legislation was supported by the BJD, TDP, YSR-Congress and independents.

Apart from the three Shiv Sena MPs who were not present during voting, two members each of Samajwadi Party and NCP as also one of TMC were absent.

Earlier, Rajya Sabha rejected a motion to send the Bill to a select committee of the House with 124 members voting against it as compared to 99 in its favour. The House also rejected several amendments moved by opposition members to the Bill, most by voice vote. The Bill will now go to the President for his assent.

This was the second attempt by the Modi government to amend the citizenship law. In January, the legislation was passed in the Lower House but lapsed with the 15th Lok Sabha, as it was not brought in Rajya Sabha where the Modi government lacked the numbers.

Replying to a six-and-a-half-hour debate on the Bill, Shah on Wednesday rejected the Opposition charge that the Bill was anti-Muslim. He repeatedly stressed that the legislation will not take away anyone’s citizenship and was only intended to help minority communities facing religious persecution in the three neigbouring countries. “No provision in citizenship bill touches citizenship of Muslims,” he said. “Indian Muslims are citizens of the country and will remain so…. Citizenship Bill is not to snatch anyone’s Indian citizenship. Muslims have no need to fear or worry,” he said.

To a reference made by Samajwadi Party MP Javed Ali Khan, Shah said India will never become “Muslim-mukt even if you want so.”

Shah hit out at Kapil Sibal, saying the Congress leader should not teach him the idea of India. “My seven generations have been born here. I have not come from abroad. We were born here, we shall die here. Don’t teach us the idea of India,” he said. Shah also said that the opposition should not spread fear among Muslims.

On why persecuted minorities from countries such as Sri Lanka were not part of the legislation, Shah said 8-9 lakh Tamils from the island country had been given Indian citizenship in the past and the present law is to tackle a specific problem. To repeated questions from opposition on why Muslims were being left out, he said Muslims from other countries have the right to apply for Indian citizenship as per existing rules. As many as 566 Muslims have been given citizenship in recent years, he said.

Rejecting opposition’s criticism that the Citizenship Amendment Bill discriminates against Muslims, Shah referred to the Nehru-Liaquat pact to justify the new legislation. Since the Nehru-Liaquat pact of giving minorities freedom to practice their religion was not followed by neighbouring countries, Modi government has to do the needful, he said.

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