New Delhi, April 10, The Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, cleared by the outgoing Lok Sabha, proposed providing citizenship to “Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis and Christians from Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan”. But in the BJP Sankalp Patra released Monday, Christians and Parsis were omitted with the manifesto stating “Hindus, Jains, Buddhists, Sikhs escaping persecution from India’s neighbouring countries will be given citizenship in India,” The Indian Express reported.
Within an hour of The Indian Express contacting BJP leaders to check on the omission, the Sankalp Patra posted on the party’s official website had added Christians to the list — the Parsis are still missing.
In the report, BJP general secretary Bhupender Yadav, member of the manifesto committee, said “it was an error” and “there is no change in the party’s policy to protect all minorities”.
“The Citizenship (Amendment) Bill remains the same. There is no change in our policy of protecting all minorities. In fact, in the Sankalp Patra, under the Inclusive Development title, the party makes it clear that we are committed to the empowerment and ‘development with dignity’ of all minorities — Muslims, Christians, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains and Parsis etc,” Yadav told The Indian Express. He said he had given instructions to add Christians to the list in the party document.
The printed version of the Sankalp Patra stated, “We are committed to the enactment of the Citizenship Amendment Bill for the protection of individuals of religious minority communities from neighbouring countries escaping persecution. We will make all efforts to clarify the issues to the sections of population from the Northeastern states who have expressed apprehensions regarding the legislation. We reiterate our commitment to protect the linguistic, cultural and social identity of the people of Northeast. Hindus, Jains, Buddhists, Sikhs escaping persecution from India’s neighbouring countries will be given citizenship in India.”
BJP leader Meenakshi Lekhi, another member of the manifesto committee, pointed out in the report that the persecuted population of Christians and Parsis in Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh are minimal. But she underlined that the Bill would cover all minorities of Indian origin in these countries.
“Bangladesh and Pakistan were formed on religious reasons but both countries had in the beginning adopted secularism as a policy. Within a short span of time, the minorities there started getting persecuted. The percentage of the minority population in these countries speak for itself,” she said in the report.
Maintaining that there is no data to show that countries other than India accept persecuted Hindus from these countries as refugees, Lekhi said, “India happens to be the parent country for them. India has to give refuge to these sections (Hindus, Buddhists, Jains and Sikhs), and it is our duty because they are homeless and faceless where they are persecuted.”
She said there are many countries that give asylum to persecuted Christians from these countries and cited the example of Canada offering citizenship to a Christian woman in Pakistan accused of blasphemy, in the report.
The North-east has seen widespread protests against CAB ever since it was announced.
The Citizen (Amendment) Bill, 2019, seeks to amend the Citizen Act of 1955. It relaxes the eligibility rules to get Indian citizenship for immigrants belonging to six minority religions — Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis and Christians — from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan.
While protests have been seen against the obvious exclusion of Muslims in the list of people the government is willing to provide citizenship too, far bigger ones have been seen in the North East, opposing the ease with which illegal immigrants will be able to become citizens.
The indigenous communities of Assam see the bill as a threat as it goes against a provision in the Assam Accord, which mentions that any person who came to Assam after midnight of 24 March, 1971, will be identified as a foreigner. The people of Assam also fear that an influx of immigrants will take a toll on the limited state resources and alter its demography.
Indigenous communities fear being reduced to a minority in their homeland, outnumbered by an influx of illegal migrants from Bangladesh and other countries. Many see it as a threat to their identity.