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Kolkata: Amidst uproar by the Opposition in the Parliament and, by a sizeable section of the common people in Assam, the Lok Sabha has passed the contentious Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2019 that seeks to provide citizenship to non-Muslim immigrants from India’s neighbouring countries.

The Bill shall now have to be ratified by the Rajya Sabha where the NDA is in a minority with only 89 members, whereas the majority mark is 123. The Government has in fact extended the Rajya Sabha session till Wednesday, although the session was to be over today.

Union home minister Rajnath Singh tabled in the Lok Sabha today the Bill, which had earlier been sent to a Joint Parliamentary Committee (JPC).

After a few hour-long debate wherein the Opposition alleged that the Bill is against the basic secular characteristic of the Constitution, it was put to vote late in the afternoon. Since the BJP-led NDA is in majority, the Bill got passed.

The Bill seeks to facilitate citizenship to six minority communities ~ Hindus, Sikhs, Jains, Buddhists, Christians and, Parsis from Afghanistan, Pakistan and, Bangladesh who came to India before 31 December 2014.

The minimum residency period for claiming citizenship has also been reduced from to seven years from what was 12 years until now.

Dissuading the wide-spread fear in the Assamese society of getting overpowered by Bengali immigrants due to the passage of the Bill, Singh told Lok Sabha that the Act is not confined to Assam.

“The Bill will apply to all States and Union Territories of the country. The beneficiaries of the Citizenship Amendment Bill can reside in any state of the country. The burden of these persecuted migrants will be shared by the whole country,” he said.

To pacify the Assamese and tribal communities of Assam, he announced that a Bill will be moved in the current session of the Parliament to grant Scheduled Tribe (ST) status to six communities of Assam ~ Tai Ahom, Koch Rajbongshi, Chutia, Tea Tribes, Moran and, Matak.

Also, a separate Bill will be introduced to grant ST status to Bodo Kacharis in the Hill districts of Assam and, Karbis in the rest of Assam, he said.

Congress, Trinamool and, Left Front members opposed the Citizenship Bill saying that it is “against the basic characteristics of the Indian constitution.” Several civil society organisations also observed a day-long bandh in Assam today and it evoked an impact barring the Bengali dominated Barak Valley.

Trinamool senior MP, Sougata Roy, said that his party would have no objection if the Government hadn’t tagged religious identity to granting of citizenship.

“The Government is not realising that the passage of the Bill will set Assam and the northeast on fire. I am cautioning the Government…Bengalis will be targeted for this,” he said, claiming to have support from CPI-M on this apprehension.

CPI-M MP, Md Salim, who was a member of the JPC and spoke against the Bill, said that the Government may have gone into a secret understanding with some Opposition members.

“True that they do not have a majority in the Rajya Sabha but who knows what understanding they have reached with others: things will be clear only on Wednesday,” Salim said over the phone tonight.

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