Responding to the debate in Parliament, “People are scaring Muslims: CAA will take away your citizenship,” Home Minister Amit Shah claimed. “Show me any clause in this law that takes away citizenship. There is nothing like that.” Shah continued: “I want to tell Muslims: these rumours are incorrect. CAA is not to take way citizenship but to give citizenship.” In this exchange with Congressman “Fear was instilled in the hearts of minorities, especially in the hearts of Muslim brothers and sisters across the country that the CAA would take away their Citizenship”. Amit Shah said. Kapil Sibal responded, “No one is saying CAA will take away anyone’s citizenship”. Treasury benches came out with names of Congressmen and opposition who were quoted with such specific statements. Sibal was compelled to clarify that CAA was “not the issue, but the National Population Register process is,” (NPR). If a legal luminary like Kapil Sibal is caught napping on the CAA construct, imagine the common citizen incited into protesting and even the Shaheen Bagh log. What nuances are they aware of and protesting over. Truth to tell, even our politicians are unaware of the intricacies and in particular the legal compulsions that has necessitated the passage of CAA and belatedly at that.
In fact, though the BJP manifesto, in 2014 itself, was clear in proclaiming that they would identify illegal immigrants from our midst and have them deported in a manner known to law, despite being in power for 6 long years, second term inclusive, they have little to nothing, to even begin to act on this promise. Art.370 aside CAA was too little when the Bill was pending since 2016, and in fact in the face of political unanimity on need for National Population Register, it is a pity that the protests are on, for all the wrong reasons and tweaked to be on false constructs, which the commoners have completely failed to grapple with, leave alone appreciate and/or understand.
CAA/NRC/NPR ought to be about illegal immigrants. Is there no consensus in India that illegal immigrants have no place here? Are the political parties not united that a porous border and infiltration across it, is a huge menace threatening the unity and integrity of India? Instead, they are typically fighting over their personal fiefdoms or vote banks, as even the Supreme Court of India was constrained to acknowledge. What a shame.
According to the CAA, Hindu, Christian, Buddhist, Jain, Sikh and Parsi migrants who have entered India illegally-that is, without a visa-on or before December 31, 2014 from the Muslim-majority countries of Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh and have stayed in the country for five years, are eligible to apply for Indian citizenship.
Why is the provision extended only to people of six religions, and not Muslims, and why does it apply only to people coming from these three countries?
The Union government claims that people of these six faiths have faced persecution in these three Islamic countries, Muslims haven’t. It is, therefore, India’s moral obligation to provide them shelter. But what of the identification of the illegal immigrants, which is a wholly different ball game. Do we even care despite the recorded facts and binding decisions of no less than Supreme Court, not once, but at least on three separate occasions?
Let us not go back too far. To 19th century or even immediately after Independence or even the AASU agitation, the Assam Accord. It may suffice to begin with the 8th Nov, 1998 Report on Illegal Migration into Assam Submitted to the President of India by the Governor of Assam, Lt. Gen.S K Sinha, a proud soldier.
“Dear Adarniya Rashtrapatiji,
Large scale illegal migration from East Pakistan/Bangladesh over several decades has been altering the demographic complexion of this State. It poses a grave threat both to the identity of the Assamese people and to our national security. Successive Governments at the Centre and in the State have not adequately met this challenge. As Governor of Assam, I feel it is my bounden duty, both to the Nation and the State I have sworn to serve, to place before you this report on the dangers arising from the continuing silent demographic invasion. I have also formulated my recommendations for dealing with this issue of vital importance. I earnestly hope that this matter will receive due consideration and suitable action taken to avert the grave danger that has been building up for some time.“
The report adds in cold and blunt language, for emphasis,
“Political parties have been underplaying the grave importance of this problem and have been viewing it as something affecting only the Assamese people. Thus an issue of great concern for national security has been made into a partisan affair and a matter of vote banks. It must be lifted above the mire of party politics and viewed as a national security issue of great importance. There is an imperative need to evolve a national consensus on this all important threat facing the Nation.”
That was the Governor of Assam to the then President of India, K.R. Narayan. That is not all. It may be instructive to read the 175th Report of Law Commission of India, on The Foreigners (Amendment) Bill,2000, dt. 21st Sept, 2000 commissioned by the BJP Government, under Atal Bihari Vajpayee, as then Prime Minister. Justice B P Jeevan Reddy led Commission recorded that the issue had attained importance and urgency in the context of the problem posed as illegal migration especially from across the borders and delicate security situation arising therefrom. Painstakingly putting together numbers, a difficult task in the absence of any formal ascertainment, LCI noted that the problem had attained gigantic proportions as is evident from an estimated population of about 18 million foreigners unauthorisedly living in India (this in 2000 mind you). Noting that migration of population was a heritage and civilisational construct, it was observed that the Britishers meticulously set upon it for engaging labour in industrial and plantation spaces.
Lord Curzon’s 2005 Division of Bengal and its obliteration in 2011 lent a potion and a poison whose impact has not ceased to have on the demographic facet in India. It was noted in the LCI report from recorded facts, not anecdotal, that since the liberation of erstwhile East Pakistan, to be born as Bangladesh, the influx of migrants has remained unabated and has acquired frightening proportions. Tragically, it is pointed out that there has been no systemic estimate of these migrations ‘no census has been carried out to determine their number’. Only ‘theoretical estimates’ were available for the LCI to take its call in its Report. It was an appalling state of affairs which continues till date. We are like that only whoever is holding the administrative reins. But LCI concluded that even these ‘theoretical estimates ‘pointed out to ‘figures which are mind boggling and alarming indeed’.
And the typical Indian variant, which is in our DNA, “… the illegal migrants continue to stay in India with impunity on account of rampant corruption in rank and file of the enforcement agencies. Another cause of illegal Migration is the clandestine crisis-border trade between India and Bangladesh which is estimated at $5 Billion” ( in 2000,to remind again).
Now come to three specific decisions of the Supreme Court
i)Sarbananda Sonowal vs Union Of India & Anr on 12 July, 2005, ii) Sarbananda Sonowal vs Union Of India on 5 December, 2006 and iii) Assam Sanmilita Mahasangha & Ors vs Union Of India & Ors on 17 December, 2014. It may not be necessary to hark back to the 2005/2006 verdicts, as the 2014 verdict telescoped them into its. Lt. Gen. S K Sinha’s anguished report of 1998 vintage and 175th Report of LCI of 2000 vintage, were treated as foundational premises for whipping the Union of India into action, by the 17th Dec, 2014 order.
(Narasimhan Vijayaraghavan- Author is practising advocate in the Madras High Court)