India's Cabinet okays Bill on religion-based citizenship

NEW DELHI • India's Cabinet has approved a Bill to give citizenship to religious minorities persecuted in neighbouring Muslim countries, the first time the country is seeking to grant nationality on the basis of religion.

Last month, Indian Home Minister Amit Shah told Parliament that non-Muslim minorities - Hindus, Buddhists, Jains, Christians, Sikhs and Parsis - who fled from Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan would be given Indian citizenship under the proposed law.

The Citizenship Amendment Bill (CAB) was first introduced in 2016 by the Hindu nationalist government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, but was withdrawn after an alliance partner withdrew support and protests flared in India's remote and ethnically diverse north-eastern region.

Giving Indian citizenship to "Hindus, Jains, Buddhists and Sikhs escaping persecution" was part of the manifesto of Mr Modi's ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) ahead of the general election in May that the nationalist leader swept.

Critics have called the proposed law anti-Muslim, and some opposition parties have also pushed back, arguing that citizenship cannot be granted on the basis of religion.

Yesterday's passage of the Bill, which could be introduced in Parliament this week, will also be a test for the BJP, since it enjoys a majority in the Lower House but is short of numbers in India's Upper House. Any Bill needs to be ratified by both Houses of India's Parliament to become law.

In Assam, a north-eastern state that was the epicentre of protests, some students groups said they were still opposed to the law, fearing that tens of thousands of Hindu migrants from neighbouring Bangladesh would gain citizenship.

"We do not support CAB and shall launch a vigorous mass agitation across Assam and the northeast," All Assam Students' Union adviser Samujjal Bhattacharya said.

Assam Finance Minister and senior BJP leader Himanta Biswa Sarma said there would be amendments in the Bill to ease regional concerns.

"But since CAB is for the whole of India, there cannot be a separate Bill for the north-east," he said, but did not give details.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 05, 2019, with the headline 'India's Cabinet okays Bill on religion-based citizenship'. Print Edition | Subscribe