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If Pakistan Was Secular, India Would Not Require Citizenship Amendment Bill: BJP's Himanta Biswa Sarma

The Assam minister said people will not have a problem with the Citizenship Amendment Bill once it is made public as it provides for 'common ground for various minority groups'.

Marya Shakil | CNN-News18maryashakil

Updated:December 4, 2019, 6:57 PM IST
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If Pakistan Was Secular, India Would Not Require Citizenship Amendment Bill: BJP's Himanta Biswa Sarma
File photo of BJP leader Himanta Biswa Sarma.

New Delhi: Ahead of the tabling of the Citizenship Amendment Bill (CAB) in the Parliament, Assam minister Himanta Biswa Sarma on Wednesday indirectly blamed Pakistan for forcing India to draft a allowing persecuted minorities to settle here.

“If Pakistan was a secular nation, 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 discussions between Union Home Minister Amit Shah and representatives of students’ bodies and civil society groups of Assam, the Union Cabinet on Wednesday cleared the contentious legislation. Sources said it will be taken up in the Parliament next week.

Sarma, convener of the North-East Democratic Alliance (NEDA) and the BJP’s main man in the northeast, said Shah met “600 individuals belonging to 150 groups” and had spent more than 100 hours in consultations.

“I am sure people will not have a problem with CAB when the final Bill is 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 countries 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 its exclusion of Muslim migrants, which is likely to cause an upheaval in the northeast.

However, Sarma defended the sectarian label of the Bill. “How can you say 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, a 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 CAB before a nationwide NRC exercise.

Citing that the Comptroller and Auditor General of India (CAG) has found “huge irregularities” in the NRC, Sarma also rejected the historic Assam Accord — the document that is the basis for the state’s anti-immigrant struggle.

Sarma said 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 of them at least 2-3 lakh will get their correct status once Foreigners Tribunals finish their procedures.

On the question of unrest among multiple state governments, civil society organisations and student groups in the northeast on the Bill, Sarma said, “Many states in the northeast are happy. Leaders from these states have also expressed their happiness. But yes, there are some groups who are not happy, like the 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 came after Meghalaya Chief Minister Conrad Sangma on November 22 met the Home Minister in Delhi and discussed the “need for proper consultation and the need to engage with stakeholders”, to which the latter agreed.

Nevertheless, Sarma said their allies in the region were intact, assuring that the BJP has the people’s mandate to bring in CAB.

“My job is to keep our allies in NE intact...and you will see they will be intact. Keeping allies does not mean we will not do our job,” he said.

Sarma, however, attacked West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee for opposing the CAB, advising her to “read the legislation” properly.

“The CAB will not give Bengali Hindus the status of refugees. Rather, they will be given citizenship,” he said. “If citizenship through a parliamentary procedure is not enough, then Mamata Banerjee should provide a solution.”

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