Protests, strikes as India Parliament considers controversial citizenship bill

Students protest against the Citizenship Amendment Bill in Guwahati, India. (AP)
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Updated 10 December 2019

Protests, strikes as India Parliament considers controversial citizenship bill

  • Some see the move as a blatant attack on India’s secularism and its minority Muslim community

NEW DELHI: The Indian government on Monday tabled its controversial Citizenship Amendment Bill (CAB) in the lower house of Parliament amid strike threats and protests against it throughout the country.

The bill, which seeks to amend the country’s Citizenship Act 1955, is aimed at granting citizenship to persecuted minorities such as Hindus, Buddhists, Jains, Christians and Parsis from Bangladesh, Afghanistan and Pakistan, but excludes Muslims.

After introducing the bill in Parliament, Indian Minister of Home Affairs Amit Shah, said: “Why do we need this bill today? After independence, if Congress had not partitioned the country on the basis of religion, we would not have needed this bill. Congress did partition on the basis of religion.”

The bill, he added, sought to give Indian nationality to non-Muslim refugees from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan who were facing religious persecution there, and did “not violate any of the constitutional provisions.”

The idea of the CAB gained currency after the publication of the final list of the National Register of Citizens (NRC) — a process of identifying illegal citizens in the northeastern state of Assam — on Aug. 31.

After five years of implementing the rigorous process, the NRC found more than 1.9 million illegal citizens in Assam out of which close to 65 percent were estimated to be Bengali Hindus.

For the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which considers Hindus as its core constituency, it was a huge setback. Therefore, immediately after the publication of the NRC list, BJP leaders in Assam and Delhi started to criticize the list, calling it faulty and demanding a fresh NRC. To relieve Hindu tensions, the BJP promised to bring a new CAB to Parliament.

Additionally, Shah also announced last month that his government would conduct an all-India NRC to identify illegal citizens, with Assam having to go through the process again.

Some see the move as a blatant attack on India’s secularism and its minority Muslim community.

“This bill is not even .001 percent against minorities. It is against infiltrators,” Shah said.

However, opposition groups, led by the Congress party, say the legislation runs against the basic principles of the constitution and secularism.

“The bill is a violation of our constitution’s secular ethos, culture, tradition and civilization, and we will oppose it,” said Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury, Congress leader in the lower house.

With opposition parties lacking a majority in both houses of the Indian Parliament, the bill is likely to pass without facing many hurdles.

But the views of the main opposition have been represented on the streets with different political and social groups staging demonstrations in various parts of the country.

In the eastern city of Kolkata, thousands of people held a rally to protest against the CAB and the proposed NRC.

Organized by a joint forum of different civil society groups, the protesters called the citizenship bill “communal and anti-constitutional” and vowed to campaign against it across India.

The capital Delhi witnessed its third protest in as many days against CAB. On Monday, the All India United Democratic Front of Assam (AIUDF) held a demonstration and asked the government to “reconsider” the citizenship bill.

Similar protests have also been organized in the southern Indian city of Bangalore where people expressed “deep anxiety” over the CAB, while all eight northeastern states were due to stage a general strike against the CAB on Tuesday.

“Citizenship based on religion is an attack on the very foundation of the secular India,” said Samujjal Bhattacharya, adviser to the North East Students’ Organization (NESO), an Assam-based civil society group which is spearheading a campaign against the CAB.

Bhattacharya told Arab News that the Assam agitation of the 1980s was against illegal citizens from Bangladesh and was not targeted against any religion, but the CAB was detrimental to the interests of the entire northeast.

Assam-based Aman Wadud, a human rights activist and lawyer, said: “You have to read the citizenship bill with the NRC and then it becomes clear that the main purpose of the CAB is to harass Muslims and divide the society on religious grounds.

“The Assam NRC has proved that illegal immigrants in India is a myth and it is whipped only to arouse the emotion of the people.”

Syed Sadatullah Hussaini, president of the Jamaat-e-Islami Hind (JIH), a prominent Islamic organization in India, said: “The way the ruling BJP is attaching the NRC with the citizenship bill is an attempt to target the Muslim population. It is against the constitutional values of India. It is an attempt to legitimize the two-nation theory and treat Hindus and Muslims as separate entities in India.”

Meanwhile, popular historian and political analyst, Ramachandra Guha, told Arab News that the CAB was “part bigotry, part headline management. This regime is pathologically anti-Muslim, and it desperately wants to divert attention from the perilous state of the economy.”

Mahathir to form unity govt, sorry for quitting in haste

Updated 27 February 2020

Mahathir to form unity govt, sorry for quitting in haste

  • UMNO, a Malay-based party, has been in power for the past 61 years, and critics say it has openly embraced cronyism and race-based politics

KUALA LUMPUR: In an unprecedented address broadcast live to the public on Wednesday, Malaysia’s interim Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad confirmed that he would try to form a nonpartisan administration.

“I think right or wrong, politics and political parties need to be put aside for now. If it is possible, I will try to establish a government that does not favor any party. Only the interests of the nation will take precedence,” he said in his first public comments since the Pakatan Harapan (PH) government collapsed on Monday, following his resignation as prime minister — although he remains the country’s acting leader.

He added that politicians and political parties “are too political” — so much that they had forgotten about the health and economic issues threatening the country.

In light of the recent coronavirus outbreak and the severe economic aftershocks faced by the country due to its ongoing political drama, the Malaysian leader also conveyed his apologies to the public for resigning in haste.

“I apologize to all Malaysians for the country’s political turmoil that may cause anxiety,” the 94-year-old said. “As a normal human being, I am not alone in making mistakes. I apologize if my resignation was wrong.”

Mahathir quit the top job in Putrajaya and the Malaysian United Indigenous Party (BERSATU) on Monday, following political maneuvers by certain factions within the alliance and amid accusations of a power grab by some.

“I resigned because I didn’t see the power and the position as the be all and end all — as my goal. For me, that power and position is a means to an end or a tool to achieve an objective. And our objective is the good of the nation,” Mahathir said.

The Peoples Justice Party (PKR) tried to consolidate power with an opposition party bloc, including the United Malays National Organization (UMNO), to form a “backdoor government” on Sunday. The plan failed because they did not get Mahathir’s backing after he realized the UMNO would be part of the coalition.

UMNO, a Malay-based party, has been in power for the past 61 years, and critics say it has openly embraced cronyism and race-based politics. The billion-dollar 1MDB scandal involving UMNO’s former president, Najib Razak, led to the PH party, under Mahathir and Anwar Ibrahim, winning the 2018 elections.

“I can accept UMNO members who leave UMNO and join other parties. But UMNO will join this unity government and treat it as the UMNO Party. This is unacceptable to me. That drove my decision to resign,” explained Mahathir.

Malaysian head of state Sultan Abdullah Ri’ayatuddin Al-Mustafa Billah Shah subsequently appointed Mahathir as the interim prime minister on Monday, while the country was in the process of transition.

Professor James Chin, a political analyst at Tasmania University’s Asia Institute, told Arab News that Mahathir is trying to put together a balanced coalition.

“He wants individuals, not parties,” said Chin. “If Mahathir gets his way to form a unity government, there will be no specific ideology, so that all sides are represented.”

Adib Zalkapli, director of political consultancy firm BowerGroupAsia, told Arab News that Mahathir’s agenda for the unity government is unrealistic.

“Some of the parties are ideologically different. UMNO, for example, is defined by its opposition to the Democratic Action Party’s (DAP) ideology of Malaysian Malaysia,” he said. “They cannot be in the same coalition.”

The king will interview MPs to assess who might get majority support as prime minister — or whether a general election is needed.

The PH party told reporters on Wednesday that they have chosen PKR president Anwar Ibrahim as the “prime ministerial candidate for the Alliance government.” Other parties, including Gabungan Parti Sarawak (GPS) from Borneo, are backing Mahathir, while opposition parties such as the UMNO have pushed for a snap election.

“The statement by the Alliance showed they want the king to decide, which means the Alliance did not get a deal with Mahathir,” Chin said, adding that it would be a major challenge to the 60-year-old king, as he is “young and untested.”

“The Mahathir-Anwar partnership has collapsed. Nobody knows who has the support of the majority of the MPs. It’s up to the king now to end the uncertainty,” Zalkapli said. “His Majesty may decide based on who will likely form the most stable government.”