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For 2019 elections, BJP at least needs the Citizenship Amendment Bill

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Building Ram temple is out of its hands, so BJP is looking to the Citizenship Amendment Bill to provide push for its Hindutva agenda. But JPC is playing spoilsport.

New Delhi: The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) may talk about vikas (development) and welfare but it is distinctly aware it needs to also be seen as delivering to its hardcore Hindutva vote base ahead of the 2019 Lok Sabha elections.

With limited space to push the Ram temple in Ayodhya, given the land dispute is being heard in the Supreme Court, Prime Minister Narendra Modi-led BJP government is relying heavily on the Citizenship Amendment Bill, 2016, to be seen as actively promote the Hindutva agenda.

However, the Joint Parliamentary Committee (JPC) dealing with the bill failed to reach a consensus when it met Tuesday to take up clause-by-clause consideration. The panel, which has already been given six extensions, is now likely to clear the report through voting.

According to highly placed sources in the party, the BJP feels it is “imperative to be seen to be pushing the bill as a display of its commitment to Hindutva both to its voters and cadres, since the Ram mandir issue is beyond its control”.

The bill

With an aim to amend the Citizenship Act, 1955, the bill was introduced in the Lok Sabha on 19 July 2016, by the BJP-led NDA government. According to the provisions of the bill, illegal migrants who are Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis and Christians from Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan will be eligible for citizenship in India.

As per the 1955 Act, for citizenship by naturalisation, an applicant must have resided in India during the last 12 months, and for 11 of the previous 14 years. The new bill waters down the 11-year requirement to six for persons belonging to the six religions and three countries.

Also read: The Citizenship Amendment Bill, and why it is contentious

Party politics

The BJP has been flaunting the exercise of updating the National Register of Citizens (NRC) in Assam by claiming it will weed out “infiltrators”, but has simultaneously been talking about bringing in the Citizenship Amendment Bill to give citizenship to Hindu immigrants — a clear strategy to fit into its Hindu majoritarian political narrative.

This was a promise that the BJP made in its 2014 Lok Sabha manifesto. “India shall remain a natural home for persecuted Hindus and they shall be welcome to seek refuge here,” it said.

Sources in the BJP say the Modi government, along with talking about development, reforms and welfare, also has to pander to its core Hindutva vote base. This bill, therefore, becomes important to the party, especially in the context of its other big overt religious promise — the Ram temple — being outside its purview for now.

“We have to be seen as delivering to our core voter on at least one count. A vigorous push to this bill will charge the atmosphere and we will be seen as fulfilling a key promise,” a party source said on condition of anonymity.

The BJP’s steep rise in the 1990s was, to a very significant extent, based on its brazen Hindutva politics. The party believes its committed voters and cadres are getting impatient over the delay in the Ram temple and need to be assuaged.

Stiff opposition

The BJP, however, has a tough battle ahead given there is only one full Parliament session to go before the Lok Sabha polls and the numbers in the Rajya Sabha are not in its favour.

The JPC report is expected to be submitted in the forthcoming winter session.

The political opposition to the bill is as vociferous as the BJP’s push for it.

In May, a parliamentary committee’s visit to the Northeast to gather views of people on the proposed bill sparked tensions in Assam, with even BJP allies like the Asom Gana Parishad (AGP) protesting against it.

AGP chief Prafulla Kumar Mahanta, who is also a former Assam chief minister, had told ThePrint that if the BJP went ahead with the bill, the AGP would end the alliance with it in Assam.

Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, whose Janata Dal (United) is in alliance with the BJP in the state, has also opposed the bill.

Even during Tuesday’s JPC meet, members from the Congress and other opposition parties held that there should be no discrimination on the basis of religion in granting citizenship and foiled the BJP’s attempts to pass the report.

Also read: 62,214 workers, Rs 1,100 crore and 100 terabytes of data — the behemoth behind Assam’s NRC


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