With the Union Cabinet approving the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, the ruling BJP has taken a major stride towards fulfilling its poll promise of granting Indian citizenship to Hindus, Sikhs, Jains, Buddhists and Christians escaping persecution from neighbouring countries. The primary beneficiaries would be non-Muslim refugees from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan, whereas Muslim immigrants such as Myanmar’s Rohingya face the prospect of deportation. The Cabinet nod comes a couple of days after Home Minister Amit Shah virtually set the agenda for the next General Election by declaring that every infiltrator would be identified and expelled by 2024. That’s his deadline for implementing a pan-India National Register of Citizens (NRC), notwithstanding the messy exercise carried out in Assam. A legislation under which nationality will be granted on the basis of religion is fraught with communal complications. A witch-hunt targeting a particular community will fly in the face of ‘Sabka saath, sabka vikas’, the NDA government’s lofty slogan. The powers that be have so far been unable to delink the Bill from the NRC, leading to the perception that both are aimed at religious segregation rather than ensuring that every Indian citizen, irrespective of his or her faith, is accounted for. The government also faces the challenge of addressing concerns raised by Northeastern states regarding the unabated influx of ‘outsiders’. Since times immemorial, India has been a melting pot of cultures and religions. The all-embracing inclusiveness is manifested in Kerala’s Cheraman Juma Mosque, said to be the subcontinent’s oldest Muslim place of worship that was built during the era of Prophet Muhammad. An exclusionist policy is not only against Indian tradition but also at variance with the secular values enshrined in the Constitution. Earlier this year, UN human rights experts had resented India’s decision to send a few Rohingya families back to Myanmar. Under international law, States are prohibited from forcing individuals to return to countries where they would be at risk of persecution. The harassment of immigrants in the name of national security would only cause domestic strife. A pragmatic – and least disruptive – approach should be the way forward.
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