On Wednesday morning, the Union Cabinet cleared the contentious Citizenship (Amendment) Bill. Defense Minister Rajnath Singh had earlier said the Bill is a top priority for the government, deeming it as significant as revoking Jammu and Kashmir's special status.
However, among the northeastern states, which had opposed the Bill, three have been completely exempted from its purview.
Here are more details.
What is the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill?
The Citizenship (Amendment) Bill or CAB, 2019 seeks to accord Indian citizenship to non-Muslims (Hindus, Jains, Christians, Sikhs, Buddhists, and Parsis) immigrants from Bangladesh, Pakistan, and Afghanistan after seven years of residence in India.
The current provision requires refugees to be residents for at least 12 years.
The Bill was passed in the Lok Sabha in January, but couldn't be passed by Rajya Sabha.
Bill expected to be passed in Parliament before December 10
The Cabinet cleared the Bill and it is expected to be passed in the Parliament before December 10.
The Bill had lapsed after the dissolution of the 16th Lok Sabha without being passed in the Upper House, amid protests.
The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has asked its MPs to be present in the Parliament in large numbers in the coming days.
Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland and Mizoram exempt from CAB
Notably, Home Minister Amit Shah on Tuesday met with leaders from the northeastern states to address their concerns about the Bill.
The Bill was re-drafted to exempt the Inner Line Permit areas of Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland and Mizoram and regions under the Sixth Schedule in the North East.
Simply put, immigrants granted Indian citizenship under the Bill cannot settle in these exempted areas.
Inner Line Permit
What's the Inner Line Permit and the Sixth Schedule?
An Inner Line Permit is a document that enables an Indian citizen to visit or stay in a protected area. Currently, Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland, and Mizoram are protected under the ILP system.
Meanwhile, tribal regions in Assam, Meghalaya, and Tripura granted autonomous administration under the Sixth Schedule of the Constitution are also exempted from the Citizenship Bill.
But, what are the concerns about the Citizenship Bill?
The North East had vehemently protested against the CAB as it fears erasure of its ethnic identity with an influx of foreign immigrants.
Northeastern states have raised concerns about the grant of Indian citizenship to Hindu immigrants, who have crossed over from Bangladesh.
These concerns are separate from those raised by the Opposition, which claims the Bill violates India's secular principles by excluding Muslims.
Citizenship Bill is fundamentally unconstitutional: Shashi Tharoor
Calling the Bill "fundamentally unconstitutional," Congress leader Shashi Tharoor said on Wednesday, "Those who believe that religion should determine a nation, that was the idea of Pakistan. Mahatma Gandhi, Nehruji, Maulana Azad, Dr. Ambedkar said that religion cannot determine nationhood and ours is a country for everybody."
He added, "Ambedkar said that religion cannot determine nationhood and ours is a country for everybody."
What does the government have to say?
On their part, Singh had on Tuesday defended the Bill saying that Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Bangladesh are Islamic nations, hence, non-Muslim minorities there face religious persecution, not Muslims.
He said, "Minorities in the neighboring theocratic countries have been subjected to continuous persecution, which forced them to seek asylum in India. Giving citizenship to six minorities is in the spirit of Sarva Dharma Sambhav."