CAB redux 

The Union Home Minister will introduce in the Lok Sabha the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill that seeks to grant Indian citizenship to non-Muslim refugees from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan escaping religious persecution there on December 9, PTI news agency reported on Sunday. .

The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led ruling National Democratic Alliance (NDA) at the centre, however, cannot be faulted for its enthusiasm to re-introduce the Bill despite apprehension from various sections over its contents. It was BJP's election manifesto in the 2014 and 2019 Lok Sabha polls. The Bill got the Lok Sabha's approval but lapsed following the dissolution of the last 16th Lok Sabha. Vehement protests in North East, citing potential disturbance the region’s demography, were one of the contributing factors.

Given the sensitivity of the issue in the North East, a day ahead of the clearance by Union Cabinet on December 4, the Home Minister and BJP President Amit Shah hold meeting in New Delhi with nine representatives from four organisations who are strongly against the Bill, IANS reported.  Consequently, the redrafted CAB will “likely exclude 3 states in the North-East out of its ambit besides the tribal areas in as many as three other N-E states,” it said.

In its revised form, the Bill states the amendments will not apply to regions in the North East protected by the Inner Line Permit and Sixth Schedule provisions. This includes the whole of Arunachal Pradesh, Mizoram, most of Nagaland, Meghalaya and Tripura, and certain pockets of Assam. Manipur is the one state in the region which is not covered by the exemptions, reported on Sunday.

The ILP is an official travel document issued to allow inward travel of an Indian citizen into a protected area for a limited period and regulated under the Bengal Eastern Frontier Regulation, 1873. The ILP system is present in Arunachal, Mizoram and Nagaland. The Sixth Schedule Provisions relates to the ‘Administration of Tribal Areas in the States of Assam, Meghalaya, Tripura and Mizoram.’

However, the draft is silent about the fate of Sikkim. The non-tribal areas of Assam, Meghalaya and Tripura will fall within the ambit of the Bill, the IANS report added. Apart from Shah, the Chief Ministers of Assam, Manipur and Nagaland, as well as other representatives were also reportedly present in the meeting in New Delhi.

Will the newly-introduced exemptions to assuage the populace of the North-Eastern states and quell the opposition to the Bill? The jury is (still) out on the issue.

On its part, the North East Students' Organisation, a conglomeration of apex students’ organisations of Assam, Arunachal Pradesh, Meghalaya, Nagaland, Mizoram, Manipur and Tripura, has called for an 11-hour Northeast bandh on December 10 to protest against the decision of the Government of India to approve the CAB to be passed in Parliament. Other organisations and some political parties in the region seem to have acquiesced with the ‘face-saving’ offer. However, they need to contemplate thoroughly whether their earlier oppositions to the Bill were based on sound principle or narrow personal interest.  

For the first in India, as rightly observed by an Indian Express editorial, "citizenship will be defined, for some men, women and children, in religious terms. That is the terrible — and terrifying — burden of the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2019...” The very soul of the Indian Constitution is put under a litmus test, with paradigmatic future ramifications. 

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