BJD may back Citizenship Amendment Bill if it exempts tribal areas

Party’s member on select panel had filed dissent note against proposed bill in January

In a significant shift, the Biju Janata Dal (BJD) is likely to support a new version of the Citizenship Amendment Bill after the Home Ministry indicated that northeastern States would be shielded from the impact of the law.

BJD Parliamentary Party leader B. Mahtab, was one among the nine members on the select committee on the legislation to have filed a dissent note in January, opposing the draft legislation.

In his dissent note the BJD member had asserted that the bill would “open the floodgates” and accentuate the discontent in Assam. “Already, the population density in Assam is very high and if the present bill is enacted and brought into force, illegal immigrants, who have entered Assam and built their residences in the State and even encroached upon government land, will become entitled to Indian citizenship,” he wrote.

The bill proposes to grant citizenship to members of six religious minorities from Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh — Hindus, Jains, Sikhs, Parsis, Christians and Buddhists — who had come to India before 2014.

Home Minister Amit Shah had on Saturday sought to assure civil society groups and the political class from the northeastern States that tribal areas in Assam, Meghalaya and Tripura and States protected by the Inner Line Permit system like Arunachal Pradesh, Mizoram, Manipur and Nagaland would be out of bounds for any one acquiring citizenship through this legislation.

“We do not have the new bill so far,” Mr. Mahtab told The Hindu. “But if they do remove tribal regions of Assam and other northeastern States then our objection to the bill will be nullified,” he added. The BJD has seven members in the Rajya Sabha.

The BJP is confident of garnering enough numbers to ensure passage for the contentious bill in the Upper House, where the Opposition is better placed than in the Lok Sabha.

“We have serious reservations but we can’t comment till we have seen the final bill,” said Anand Sharma, deputy leader of the Congress party in the Rajya Sabha.

The Samajwadi Party, which has nine members in the Upper House, remains staunchly opposed to the legislation. “Religion can’t be the basis of discriminating against someone or extending a privilege to someone,” SP MP Javed Ali Khan said.

The Trinamool Congress, which had also dissented in the select committee, appears to have not yet firmed up its stand on a possible vote on the bill. As of now, there is no clarity on whether the party would stand with the rest of the Opposition during voting on the legislation.

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