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At the stroke of midnight

At the stroke of midnight

It instilled a fresh sense of "Indianness" when Pundit Nehru began his iconic speech upon India's hard-earned Independence, that "At the stroke of the midnight hour, when the world sleeps, India will awake to life and freedom. A moment comes, which comes, but rarely in history, when we step out from the old to the new, when an age ends, and when the soul of a nation, long suppressed, finds utterance." Seven decades later, at the stroke of midnight, the Lok Sabha passed the contentious Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2019, after more than seven hours of heated debate where for the motion, it was also on Partition that arguments rested—the Home Minister went on record to say that the reigning Bharatiya Janata Party had to bring the Bill because Congress had partitioned the country in 1947 on the basis of religion. An offendingly false explanation to the core, his response to the criticism from the opposition—and very genuinely so—that the this move is divisive and communal, was one of the nature to further an ideology irrespective of the fact that it clearly opposed India's nationalistic values. Home Minister Amit Shah put it blatantly: "Why did we have to come up with this Bill? If during Independence, this country was not partitioned by the Congress on the basis of religion, this Bill would not have been needed." The situation and context of 1947 cannot be created today and any comparison in that manner is nothing short of falsely propagating wrong notions. While a political party is free to uphold and express whatever ideology they subscribe to, extracting a systemic approval for it on the basis of sheer numbers amounts to autocracy. And a country as vast and diverse as India cannot but be ruled by the principle of any one ideology. The Citizenship Amendment Bill that was eventually passed at 12.02 am on Tuesday with 311 votes in favour of it and 80 against it, has in principle polarised India on communal lines. Responding to criticism associating the Bill to the BJP's idea of a "Hindu Rashtra", the Home Minister held that the population share of Hindus had decreased since Independence, citing numbers that in 1951, there were 84 per cent Hindus, now it is 79 per cent; in 1951, Muslims were 9.8 per cent of the population, today they are 14.23 per cent—claiming that the party has not done any discrimination on the basis of religion. A point to ne noted is that as a rise in population of the generally lesser well off community is interpreted as freely made progress as the numbers show, but the claim cannot be further from the truth as this is a community which is proved to lag behind on some of the most crucial indicators of progress and prosperity. The Home Minister said that the only intention behind this law is to give citizenship to illegal migrants from Afghanistan, Pakistan and Bangladesh who fled to India because of religious persecution and have been leading a "terrible" life. Clearly in violation of the principle of secularism the Indian Constitution holds sacrosanct—for it conspicuously leaves out Muslims from this supposedly protective provision, the Home Minister insists that this is not violative of the basic principles of the Constitution, pointing out that he had held consultations over the Bill with 140 delegations across 119 hours, and described it as a "rights giver, not a rights taker". Suffice it to say that there is no justification for singling out for Muslims in exclusion.

The idea of "positive discrimination" coming in the wake of the historical context that "In 1950, the Nehru-Liaqat agreement was signed for protecting minorities in India and Pakistan. They were protected in India but in Pakistan they were persecuted. Are you saying Muslims would be persecuted in Pakistan and Bangladesh? It will never happen," as Shah said, is a matter of grave concern that has assumed vast proportions with the passage of this contentious bill. The explanation that there is a fundamental difference between a refugee and an infiltrator, the Home Minister claims that this Bill is for refugees. In that case, ascertaining the refugee status could be done in alternate way that do not poke at secular values and insult them. Apart from ideals, this bill is also critical as it would open the floodgates for illegal Bangladeshis and also be a violation of the demands of the people of the Northeast. This bill has for long been a contentious issue in Northeast with influential socio-political groups and political parties holding it as a threat to the interests of the indigenous communities of the region. Numerous organisations observed a bandh this year when the earlier Citizenship (Amendment) Bill was passed, which, however, lapsed. To make things more ironical, a delighted Prime Minister Narendra Modi said that the proposed law is in line with India's centuries old ethos of assimilation and belief in humanitarian values. "Delighted that the Lok Sabha has passed the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2019 after a rich and extensive debate. I thank the various MPs and parties that supported the Bill. This Bill is in line with India's centuries old ethos of assimilation and belief in humanitarian values," he expressed through a tweet. It must be emphasised that such a move does not reflect favourably for India as opinions internationally matter a great deal in matters of association. The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom is reported to be deeply troubled by the passage of this bill and if both houses of parliament approve it, the United States government should consider sanctions against the Home Minister and other principal leadership. At a time when India has much on its plate already, is the government ready to brave questions coming from international entities?

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