CAB a combined package to save the persecuted: Himanta

NEW DELHI: The Citizenship Amendment Bill (CAB), intended to grant citizenship to minorities fleeing religious persecution in Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh , and a national NRC are a “combo package” to protect those forced to leave their homelands, BJP’s Himanta Biswa Sarma has said.

The Assam finance minister, a key interlocutor on the contentious CAB, told TOI that the bill was essential to assure Bengali speaking Hindus from Bangladesh that their interests would not be affected by the National Register of Indian Citizens (NRIC). “These people, over the years, fled Bangladesh in a hurry, in panic, when faced with threats,” he said.

Sarma said this category of people was different from the migrants who left Bangladesh for economic reasons. “These Bangladesh i migrants have planned their journey to India. They did not leave their homes due to a threat to their lives and religious identities,” he said. The CAB offers citizenship to Hindus, Sikhs, Christians, Parsis, Jains and Buddhists from the three neighbouring nations.

Buddhists from Bangladesh also fled due to reasons similar to those that prompted migration of Hindus, and needed similar protection so that they were not declared illegals or non-citizens by the NRIC process, Sarma said. “This is why a CAB is needed first and an NRIC only after that. The CAB will assure Hindus and Buddhists that they will not be left out. They will get citizenship certificates,” he added.

“The NRIC and CAB must be looked at as a ‘combo package’ that will ensure a strong signal that illegal migrants, coming to India for economic reasons, and whose presence is leading to demographic stress and social and security problems, will not be able to claim benefits as has been the case till now,” Sarma said.

Speaking of the apprehensions of north-eastern states that CAB’s passage may lead to an influx, he said the provisions of the Sixth Schedule and the Inner Line Permit mean such people will not get residency rights. “They cannot own land and businesses in these states even after becoming citizens unless given permission by the state governments,” he said.

While admitting that the northeastern groups were resisting CAB, Sarma said the reserves had declined after Lok Sabha's elections with the Interior Minister. Amit Shah engaging with parties and civil society. He also pointed out that CAB was clearly mentioned in the BJP manifesto and this had not impeded the party’s prospects. “The bill’s provisions will further reassure people in the region,” he said.

The NRIC will take note of the deficiencies of the exercise conducted in Assam and will help identify non-nationals while protecting minorities from neighbouring countries who are not in a position to return to their homes and for whom India is the sole refuge, Sarma said.