The Lok Sabha on Tuesday swiftly passed the redrafted Citizenship Bill, which seeks to provide citizenship to non-Muslims from Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan, hours after it was introduced after being cleared by the Union Cabinet on Monday. Resistance to the bill, that seeks to divide on the basis of religion in Assam and parts of the Northeast, is only logical. A religious twist to Indian citizenship is a clear sign that electoral politics has seeped into a complex issue that will define how the we deal with migration, whether for sanctuary or economic reasons. The Asom Gana Parishad has quit the BJP-led coalition in Assam in protest, saying the bill goes against the 1985 Assam Accord. The reworking of citizenship for Hindu Bangladeshis is bound to raise hackles in north Assam, which has been fighting the entry of all foreigners.
The two major key issues are a projected demographic change and the effects of migration on locals. Both are weighty enough to cause furrows on India’s brow. Post-Partition, our broader vision on migration was tested sorely by the birth of Bangladesh and the protests that followed in Assam in 1970s-80s. It rankled that religion should obtrude, that too for political reasons, as the key ruling party at the Centre and in Assam appears more focused on winning over south Assam’s Bengali Hindus, with an eye on West Bengal politics, than tackling the issue of Indian citizenship across the sensitive Northeast. The very idea of India and who’s an Indian is challenged in these circumstances. Things get more complex with the perceived need to offer shelter to persecuted Hindus in the neighbourhood, while deporting Rohingya Muslims from Myanmar. The question is: do we have the vision to decide on citizenship?