A new Citizenship Amendment Bill (CAB) that the government will introduce in the current winter session of Parliament is most likely to cross the Rajya Sabha hurdle this time.
The earlier version of the same bill that proposes to fast-track Indian citizenship for Hindus, Sikhs, Jains, Buddhists, Parsis and Christians fleeing persecution from Afghanistan, Pakistan and Bangladesh was passed by the Lok Sabha in January this year, but was not pushed through in the Rajya Sabha where the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) lacked the numbers.
The bill lapsed after the last Lok Sabha was dissolved before the general elections in April-May this year.
The new bill is also likely to contain provisions that will address the concerns of the North Eastern states. These states fear being flooded by an exodus of Bengali Hindus from Bangladesh, thus altering their demographics.
Home Minister Amit Shah assured partners in the Bharatiya Janata Party-led North East Democratic Alliance (NEDA) two months ago that the concerns of the North East would be taken into consideration and the region’s interests fully safeguarded in the new bill.
NEDA convenor and Assam Finance Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma had also stated that the new bill would address the concerns of the region.
While a tweaked CAB that safeguards the interests of the North East will silence opposition to the bill from the region, the government is confident of getting it passed in the Rajya Sabha this time.
The current strength of the Rajya Sabha is 238 and the NDA is just short of the majority mark of 120 by 11. The government is sure of making up this shortfall with the help of independent and nominated members, as well as support from friendly parties outside the NDA fold.
If the new citizenship bill is passed by Parliament in the current winter session, it will create legislative history. This will be the first time that a bill, and a very important one at that, is passed by Parliament within a few months of it lapsing due to lack of numbers in the Rajya Sabha.
Passing the bill is crucial for the government since it needs to address the fears of Hindu refugees (from Bangladesh as well as Pakistan) in Bengal and other parts of the country. These fears emanate from the exclusion of the names of lakhs of Hindu refugees from the updated National Register of Citizens (NRC) in Assam.
The Trinamool Congress and other parties have been whipping up fears that the countrywide NRC updation exercise which the BJP has been talking about will result in millions of Hindus being made stateless.
It is thus vital for the BJP to legislate the citizenship bill before embarking on the NRC updation exercise. This will ensure that the names of Hindus and five other religious communities who have fled persecution from the three Islamic neighbours do not get excluded from the NRC.