Citizenship Amendment Bill 2019: Is The BJP Playing An Electoral Game?

Union Home Minister Amit Shah presenting the Citizenship Amendment Bill 2019 in the Lok Sabha

The new draft of Citizenship Amendment Bill 2019, was presented by Home Minister yesterday in the Lok Sabha. The Bill, although similar with regard to the new citizenship provisions contained in the Bill of 2016, differs in the scope of its implementation. While the provisions of the Bill were to be applied across the nation previously, now certain areas of North East have been excluded.

These areas include the Inner Line Permit (ILP) areas of Mizoram, Nagaland, Arunachal Pradesh and the newly-declared state of Manipur. It also excludes the areas of the sixth schedule, which by implication, include almost the entire state of Meghalaya, more than half of Tripura and three autonomous district councils of Assam.

The Bill intends to provide citizenship to six non-Muslim communities viz. Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis and Christians who are being persecuted in the neighboring countries of Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh. Now practically, it’s obvious that there are hardly any Muslim immigrants from the west that is Pakistan, whatever little they are, it’s just Hindus and Sikhs. Moreover, there hasn’t been any mass exodus this side since the partition.

The actual problem lies on the eastern side where a lot of immigrants, both Hindus and Muslims, crossed the border illegally even after the partition, and more so during the Liberation war of 1971. Due to the porous border on the east, the illegal immigration continued in the states of Assam and Bengal, which was demanded to be curbed via the Assam Accord of 1985.

The ruling BJP used this very fault line provided through the Assam Accord, to build its rhetoric of driving out the Muslim ‘termites‘. However, the NRC exercise in Assam almost backfired for the ruling party as they found very less illegal Muslims and more indigenous tribals and Bengali Hindus who could not prove their identity.

The majority of North Eastern states opposed the CAB, as they wish to preserve their identity and culture and were against granting citizenship rights to any illegal immigrant, whether Hindu or Muslim. They held strong demonstrations early this year, forcing the government to stop short of introducing the Bill in Rajya Sabha.

People held strong demonstrations early this year, forcing the government to stop short of introducing the Bill in Rajya Sabha.

In this newly-drafted Bill, the government has very cleverly kept most of the NE states out of the CAB ambit, as mentioned in the opening para. So, now, practically only Assam has to deal with all the burden of newly-declared citizens. Although protests are going on in the streets of Assam, from now on, with the backing out of other states (as they are secured by ILP or sixth schedule), the movement will obviously get weakened, and now the government can aggressively push through it. By doing so, only the electoral fortunes in Assam are at stake, unlike the previous draft which threatened all the seven states going against BJP.

Now the people getting citizenship via this Bill will largely be Bengali Hindus, which is going to help BJP gain sympathy in West Bengal, and at the same time, sharpen the binary of Hindus vs Muslims. Here, it is to be noted that Mamata Bannerjee, who is already considered a Muslim sympathizer, is against this Bill, so this stance will help BJP mobilize Hindus in its favour in the Assembly elections.

Also, it will increase a clamour for an NRC in the state of West Bengal as it also contains “substantial” illegal Muslim immigrant population. Given such circumstances and the electoral history of BJP in states like Tripura and Assam, it may hope for good electoral dividends in West Bengal as well. Besides Bengal, the CAB will alter the demography of Assam too, thus increasing the Hindu Bengali voters, which by default will be BJP supporters.

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