BJP’s move to change citizenship rules could come back to haunt it, with the opposition looking to split the NDA over the passage of the proposed Citizenship Amendment Bill (CAB) in Parliament. Should that happen, it would be another coup for the opposition which successfully weaned away BJP ally Shiv Sena to form the government in Maharashtra. The CAB – which seeks to grant citizenship to non-Muslim migrants from Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan up till December 31, 2014 – is slated to be introduced in the ongoing winter session of Parliament. However, the bill is not only against the constitutional principle of equality of all religions, it is also facing massive resistance in the north-east states which harbour anxieties about being demographically and culturally overwhelmed by non-locals.
To complicate matters further, BJP has also pitched for a pan-India National Register of Citizens (NRC) to weed out illegal immigrants. This, after BJP itself rejected the NRC exercise in Assam which excluded 19 lakh people from the rolls, including around 12 lakh Hindus. After north-east representatives met Union home minister Amit Shah recently to discuss the manifold complications from the CAB-NRC combo, the latter assured them that tribal areas in Assam, Meghalaya and Tripura and states such as Arunachal Pradesh, Mizoram and Nagaland protected by the inner line permit system would be shielded from CAB.
This, however, creates a new layer of complication. If those who acquire citizenship under CAB are barred from north-east states, then what happens to those migrants who have been staying in these areas for decades? The problem is that with the CAB-NRC combo BJP is looking at the migration issue through the prism of religion, whereas for the north-east states it has always been about protecting local culture and linguistic identity.
And if BJP thinks that the CAB-NRC combine will help it electorally then the recent assembly bypoll results from Bengal undermine even that logic. Trinamool Congress swept all the three seats there after highlighting how the proposed pan-India NRC would create hardships for people and potentially deprive them of their rights as citizens. Thus, BJP would do well to review its position, recognise the simmering tensions in the north-east over CAB, and understand that changing citizenship rules won’t help it electorally. It will only complicate matters in the east and north-east, besides creating a problem with India’s foreign partners.
This piece appeared as an editorial opinion in the print edition of The Times of India.