The Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2019 (CAB) has been passed by Parliament despite strong opposition to it both within and outside Parliament. The CAB is a dangerous legislation which runs contrary to the basic principles of the Constitution. The provisions of the Bill undermine the secular concept of citizenship enshrined in the Constitution. Article 14 states that the state shall not deny to any person equality before the law or equal protection of the law within the territory of India. The Constitution also prohibits discrimination on the basis of religion, caste, creed or sex.

What the CAB has done is to introduce a religious criteria in considering certain sections of people for citizenship. As per the amendment, Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis or Christians who have come from Afghanistan, Bangladesh or Pakistan before December 31, 2014 shall not be treated as illegal migrants. They can be eligible for citizenship by naturalization, if they have spent not less than five years in India. This is a relaxation of the time limit which was not less than eleven years for naturalized citizens.

But this provision does not apply to Muslims who have come into India from these three countries. They will still be treated as illegal migrants. It is this discrimination based on religion which makes theamendment to the citizenship law unconstitutional and illegal.

The BJP had originally got the Bill passed in the previous Lok Sabha, but it could not get it passed in the Rajya Sabha for lack of a majority. The motivation for the Bill was its communal agenda of ensuring that Hindu migrants from Bangladesh living in Assam could be given citizenship while seeking to exclude any Muslim migrant from that country. This measure was necessitated because the National Register of Citizens (NRC) process in Assam would have excluded all those who entered the state after March 24, 1971.

The final list of the NRC in Assam was published on August 31 this year without the CAB have been put into effect. There were a large number of Hindus from Bangladesh excluded from the NRC, whilst the BJP had wanted more Muslims excluded.. That is why the Assam BJP state government and the Central government opposed the NRC list. It thus became urgent for the Modi government to adopt the CAB before embarking on preparing the NRC for the whole country.

In a diabolical move, Home Minister Amit Shah has announced that the NRC in Assam will be redone along with the rest of the country.

The CAB has met with a furious response in Assam and the North East. The Assamese people see this legislation as a betrayal of the commitment made in the Assam Accord by which all those who had entered Assam after March 1971 were not to be given citizenship. By extending the period to December 31, 2014 for legalizing illegal migrants, the CAB has overturned the carefully balanced agreement arrived at in 1985 through the Assam Accord.

Throughout the north-eastern states, there is the fear that their indigenous identities would be overwhelmed by the influx of people who have newly acquired citizenship. The Modi government’s attempts to mollify their fears by exempting the tribal areas included in the Sixth Schedule of the Constitution in the north-eastern states and those areas which are covered under the Inner Line have failed. It has cut no ice since these protected areas are under continuous pressure of people coming from outside to settle down and live there.

The CAB and the NRC must be seen in tandem. While the former would legitimize non-Muslim migrants as citizens, the NRC would target the so-called Muslim infiltrators. What the BJP is aiming for is to create a category of second class citizens whose rights will be severely circumscribed. Behind this thinking lies the two-nation theory first spelt out by V. D. Savarkar, in his essay “Hindutva” in 1923 and echoed 16 years later by Jinnah and the Muslim League. Amit Shah’s accusation that the Congress was responsible for the partition of India on religious lines was patently dishonest and ridiculous, since it was the BJP’s forebears and the Muslin League who propounded the two nation theory

The pincer movement of the CAB and NRC will be used to heighten communal anxieties and create a new divisive agenda suited to the BJP-RSS’s sectarian politics. The focus of the twin policies is West Bengalwhich has a large number of people who migrated from East Pakistan and later from Bangladesh. The refugee population in West Bengal who have settled there for decades have long awaited getting citizenship; something they should have got through naturalisation.

The BJP hopes to garner the support of the Bengali Hindu refugees through the CAB while targeting the Muslim Bengalis for exclusion by the NRC process. Thus the CAB-NRC pincer is designed to reopen the old wounds of partition and create a communal polarization for the BJP to profit from. If this requires undermining the Constitutional principle, so be it.

The BJP is conducting a campaign in the social media and through its spokespersons in the media that the Communists have double standards as far as the CAB is concerned. They point out that the Communists have been supporting the demand of citizenship for the Bengali Hindu refugees over the years, but are now opposing CAB which facilitates their getting citizenship. This false propaganda needs to be exposed.

The Left has consistently demanded that the lakhs of Bengali refugees, among them the Namashudra community, should be given citizenship as naturalized citizens. This was the consensus in Parliament too when the matter was raised there in 2003. In this connection, as general secretary of the CPI (M), I had written to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in May 2012 raising the same demand. However, nowhere had the Left taken the position that Muslim migrants should be excluded from citizenship. We had also made it clear that while giving citizenship to refugees fromBangladesh, the Assam Accord should be protected as far as Assam and the north-east is concerned.

The Left is totally opposed to the sectarian-communal stance of the BJP on migration and the question of refugees. India should sign the Refugee Convention so that people seeking refuge in India from anywhere can be given a legal status. The provision for extending citizenship to migrants should not be a religious criteria but on the basis of historical background, economic, social and cultural factors.

The CAB has to be challenged in the Supreme Court, but we cannot rely on the judicial- constitutional route alone. While doing so, a widespread campaign should be built up to expose the BJP’s nefarious designs with regard to the CAB-NRC. There should a powerful united movement by all those concerned about the future of the secular-democratic republic.

Prakash Karat is former general secretary and now a member of the CPI(M) Politburo