The Congress may be leading the Opposition chorus against the Citizenship Amendment Bill (CAB), but it would do well to remember that a bill implicitly containing similar provisions was passed by the Union government under Jawaharlal Nehru in 1950.
This legislation provides for expulsion of all illegal immigrants present in Assam “before and after commencement of the Act”.
However, the act makes a vital exception: it says that the act will not apply to any person who has migrated to Assam from East or West Pakistan due to “civil disturbances” or fearing such disturbance. The act also extended to the whole of India.
This is what the vital excluding provision of the 1950 Act said: “Provided that nothing in this section shall apply to any person who on account of civil disturbances or fear of such disturbances in any area now forming part of Pakistan has been displaced from or has left his place of residence in such area and who has been subsequently residing in Assam”.
This provision implicitly applies to minorities — Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Christians and Parsis — who fled or will flee the two Pakistans (East and West) due to “civil disturbances”.
Legal experts point out that this provision could not have applied to Muslims of Pakistan since they would not have faced or would be facing ‘civil disturbances’ in Pakistan. The experts also say that religious persecution is implicit in the definition of civil disturbance.
What is also implicit in the 1950 act is that those exempted from its provisions — that is, those who will not be expelled from Assam (and India) — will be granted Indian citizenship.
This is similar to what the CAB also proposes: granting of Indian citizenship to people belonging to six minority communities in Bangladesh (erstwhile East Pakistan), Pakistan and Afghanistan who would have fled those countries due to persecution or discrimination.
Thus, it seems, the Narendra Modi government is merely following in the footsteps of the government led by Nehru by introducing the CAB. The CAB only makes the 1950 Act more robust and explicit.