Asaduddin Owaisi, Hyderabad’s Member of Parliament and president of All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM) has vociferously protested the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill tabled by the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in the Lok Sabha.
The controversial bill, which makes religion a basis for granting Indian citizenship and specifically excludes Muslims, must be read “through the prism of National Register of Citizens (NRC)”, Owaisi told HuffPost India.
Edited excerpts from the interview:
In your rebuttal to Citizenship (Amendment) Bill in the Lok Sabha you said that the bill is unconstitutional. Why is the bill unconstitutional?
The government cannot violate or amend the fundamental rights which are part of the basic structure of the constitution. Here the government brought in a bill which violates Article 14 of the Constitution which guarantees the right to equality. In the constitutional scheme, if the government intends to surpass Article 14 of the constitution, then it has to pass the test of reasonable classification. This government has not passed the test and hence it has violated Article 14 of the Constitution. Besides, when the government used religion as a criteria to determine citizenship it automatically violated the right to equality because the criteria itself is arbitrary in nature.
The bill also violates secularism which is inscribed in the basic structure of the Constitution. It also violates the Supreme Court’s observation on secularism in S R Bommai vs Union of India case. (In its 1994 judgment the Supreme Court had observed that, “Though faith in the supreme is the basic principle of the Indian tradition, the Indian state will not identify itself with or be controlled by any particular religion. We hold that no one religion should be given preferential status, or unique distinction, that no one religion should be accorded special privileges in national life or international relations for that would be a violation of the basic principles of democracy and contrary to the best interests of religion and Government. This view of religious impartiality, of comprehension and forbearance, has a prophetic role to play within the national and international life”). Apart from this, the bills violates the Supreme Court judgment in Sarbananda Sonowal vs Government of India case (2005) which states that citizenship in India cannot be classified on the basis of two different principles thereby creating two different classes of citizens. It also violates the observations of the court in Shayara Bano case.
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Part three of the Indian constitution is sacrosanct as it deals with fundamental rights. As per the Constitution and several Supreme Court judgments, it is amply clear that if there is a conflict between religion and equality, then equality should prevail. In this bill the government has excluded Muslims and that shows that the right to equality and secularism stand violated.
Home minister Amit Shah said that religious minorities in countries including Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh constitute a “reasonable classification”. What is your counter?
The honorable Home Minister’s knowledge of law is not even equivalent to that of a second year law graduate. In his reply, he referred to the opposition parties’ contention that the bill violates Article 14 and asked how minorities can then set up educational institutions under Article 29 and 30 of the Constitution. His knowledge is very minimum and he is ignorant of part three of the Constitution because of which he does not know that Article 29 and 30 are part of the special scheme for minorities and that they do not violate fundamental rights inscribed in Article 14.
The bill does not pass reasonable classification test because it uses religion to classify citizenship. This automatically violates the right to equality. Every retired judge and jurist is of this opinion and I too am of the opinion that the bill does not uphold reasonable classification.
You said that CAB cannot be read in isolation and that it should be read along with National Register of Citizenship which was first implemented in Assam and now may be implemented across the country. Why should “the CAB be read through the prism of NRC”?
This bill should be read through the prism of NRC. In Assam when NRC was implemented, Hemanta Biswa Sarma (who was given finance portfolio and then made the convener of North East Development Alliance) said that 5.4 lakh Bengali Hindus are not included in the register. By passing the amended bill and its amendment section 6(a), which says that anyone who is a “persecuted minority” can avail citizenship and cases pending in courts or foreigners tribunals will stand abated. Once CAB becomes a law, and unfortunately it may, all Bengali Hindus who were left out in the NRC in Assam will be included in the register. My pointed question to the Home Minister was that, once the bill becomes a law whose cases will continue? That of the Muslims. This is blatant discrimination.
When NRC gets implemented across the country, people of every other religion who do not have documents to support their claim of citizenship will be able to get into the register because the CAB allows it. Muslims who may have disputed claims over citizenship because of non-availability of documents will not make it to the register because the CAB excludes them. This is two different ways of classifying citizenship. When I asked why it is so, Mr. Shah did not answer me.
You are trying to render Muslims stateless by not even giving us ‘second class citizenship’.
How will the Muslims in India stand to lose if NRC is implemented across the country?
Based on the NRC which was implemented in Assam, the registrar can deem people “original inhabitants”. Those who are deemed original inhabitants will not be scrutinized for any documents. This happened in Assam when one crore names were included in the NRC without any document. If the same rules are implemented across India, then Muslims who are excluded in the first register for different reasons would stand heavy scrutiny whereas people from other religions may not.
Again, in Assam people were allowed to raise objection to inclusion of certain names in the list. In Assam more than a lakh of names were objected to by persons belonging to various rightwing organisations. You can only imagine the pain and torture the Muslims wil have to go through if such objections are raised for communal reasons.
Each Muslim person whose name is not included in the register or whose name attracted objection will have to go through hearing after hearing in tribunals where they will be asked to produce documents which they may not possess. The burden of proof would rest heavily on the Muslims.
You are trying to render Muslims stateless by not even giving us ‘second class citizenship’.
Why do you say that Muslims will be rendered stateless by this?
My angst or the reason I am upset with CAB and NRC is not that Muslims from other countries including Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan would not get citizenship in India. I feel let down is because, as an Indian Muslim “I have been in this country for one thousand years”. Maulana Abul Kalam Azad had said that Hindu religion has a history of 4,000 years in this country and that Islam has a history of 1,000 years. Then why are you excluding me? Why are you excluding the Indian Muslims?
Your detractors and a section of the media have been maintaining that the CAB and NRC do not pertain to Indian Muslims.
No. Please understand that CAB should be looked through the prism of NRC. We have the example of Assam. The same model can be replicated throughout the country. So people who are telling me that the CAB is only about Muslims in other countries cannot pull wool over my eyes. I know that CAB is only about “persecuted minorities”. I have read the bill. But I am saying that if a nationwide NRC is implemented and the government makes rules which are similar to those implemented in Assam, then among the people excluded only Muslims will stand to lose. All other religious minorities will be allowed into the register because of the CAB.
I am categorically maintaining that CAB and NRC go together. If they are not linked the government could have done the nationwide NRC before introducing CAB.
According to you CAB and NRC affect both the Indian Muslims and the Muslims who may have migrated to India decades ago. Do the bill and the register affect India as a whole?
One of the reasons I am against NRC is that there is an economic downturn in our country. In my opinion we are in a recession. For a nationwide NRC to be implemented the country will have to spend Rs. 50,000 to Rs.60,000 crore. The government has already spent funds on the NRC in Assam. This is the taxpayers money which we are talking about. It should be used for benefitting the country and not for divisive agenda.
Besides, in the US which is “India’s strategic ally”, the House panel (which is responsible for foreign policy legislation) has expressed alarm over the passing of CAB in the lower house. The United States Commission on Internal Religious Freedom has demanded sanctions on Amit Shah. Even the strategic alliance has soured because of the divisive bill.
How does the Bharatiya Janata Party stand to gain from CAB and the NRC, electorally?
This is a divisive issue and the BJP is bent on making India a theocratic country by tying it up with a particular religion. Our ancestors gave us a country which has no religion. The country’s Constitution celebrates all religion and gives respect for those who do not believe in religion or God.
Only the BJP which believes in divisive politics will stand to gain from the CAB.
But the Home Minister, Amit Shah, has said that the CAB became inevitable because partition of India was based on religion (two states). Is it true?
The country was divided but we as Indians, we chose a constitution. The constitution says, “We the people of India”. This country has no religion. The state has no religion even though people can be Muslim, Christian, Buddhist or atheist.
If the government and Mr. Shah is worried about the partition, then as per their own “Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam” (the world is one family), let the government sign the International convention of refugees. This would mean that persecuted minorities of China, Tibet, Srilanka, Nepal and Myanmar among those from other countries will be able to get citizenship in India.
A statement of yours was struck from the House’s records. You said that the Home Minister will be in the league of Hitler and David Ben-Gurion while opposing the bill. Why did you bring in that parallel?
I spoke of the Nuremberg race laws (laws drafted to support racial superiority of Germans) and Israel’s citizenship act because the CAB is worse than the former. CAB is worse than the race laws because this is happening in a country which takes pride on being a democracy. If we take pride in being a functional democracy, which has a fantastic Constitution that is secular and equal to all, then should this happen in India?
Does the CAB instill a sense of fear among Indian Muslims? What would be the future?
We should oppose this bill. Every political party should oppose the bill.
A section of dissenters have called for civil disobedience. Would you support that?
Everyone has the right to protest in a democracy. Civil disobedience is their right.