ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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The Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2016 and the Aporia of Citizenship

The 2003 amendment in the Citizenship Act provided the “hinge point” from which two contradictory tendencies, represented by the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2016 and the National Register of Citizens, emerged. First, a hyphenated citizenship associated with the NRC, which made citizenship contingent on conditions of descent specific to each state, and second, a national citizenship associated with the CAB which has made religion a principle of distinguishability in the creation of bounded citizenship. Paradoxically, these tendencies have become conjoined in the contemporary context, and coexist in a relationship of contradictory cohabitation.

The Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2016 (CAB 2016) was introduced in the Lok Sabha on 19 July 2016, a couple of months after the conclusion of the state assembly elections in Assam. In these elections, held two years after the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) came to power at the centre, BJP leaders, including party president Amit Shah, spoke in rallies assuring a Bangladeshi-free Assam. Echoing the campaign speeches of Prime Minister Narendra Modi in the 2014 Lok Sabha election, Shah had been convincing people in Assam that the BJP would get rid of Bangladeshi “infiltrators.” Simultaneously, the party also promised to protect Hindus who had fled to India to escape religious persecution in Bangladesh, enact a law for the rehabilitation of Hindu refugees from Pakistan and Bangladesh, set up a task force to expedite pending citizenship requests from refugees, and issue long-term visas of 10–15 years, wherever citizenship requests were taking long to process.

Immediately after its introduction in the Lok Sabha, CAB 2016 was entrusted to a Joint Parliamentary Committee (JPC), which submitted its report on 7 January 2019, recommending the bill for discussion in Parliament. Nine members of the 30-member committee submitted notes of dissent, indicating that there was no consensus on the final recommendation. The bill was placed for discussion in the Lok Sabha on 8 January in the budget session, the last session of the 16th Lok Sabha. It faced opposition in the Lok Sabha, but was passed with the force of numerical majority of the ruling NDA. It was placed for discussion in the Rajya Sabha on 9 January, a day when the proceedings in the house were dominated by the economically weaker section quota bill. It ended in the adjournment of the house. With the dissolution of the Lok Sabha by the President in preparation for the next general election, the CAB lapsed. The BJP made CAB 2016 part of the party’s campaign for the 2019 Lok Sabha election. In rallies in Assam and West Bengal in particular but also in other states, the BJP leaders made it clear that when the party returned to power, it would ensure the passage of the CAB into an act. The manifesto of the Congress party released on 2 April 2019 announced its opposition to the CAB.

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Updated On : 18th Dec, 2019

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