New Delhi: Union home minister Amit Shah on Tuesday, August 2, said that the government will implement the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) once the ongoing COVID-19 vaccination drive in the country is over.
West Bengal Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) MLA and leader of the Opposition in the state assembly Suvendhu Adhikari said that the home minister conveyed the same to him during a meeting at the Parliament House on Tuesday to discuss the organisational functioning of the West Bengal BJP.
The Union government launched the drive for the administration of the third dose of the COVID vaccine – which the government calls a ‘precautionary dose’ – in April this year, expected to be completed nine months from then.
In May this year, addressing a public gathering in Siliguri in the state, Shah had said that the CAA would be implemented once the “COVID wave is gone”. The home minster had made the remarks in response to the ruling Trinamool Congress’s (TMC) claims that the BJP would never implement the legislation.
Importantly, both of Shah’s assurances regarding the implementation of the CAA came in Bengal, where the legislation has political importance for the BJP.
The Matua community, largely concentrated in the North 24 Parganas district of the state, belong to the Namashudra Dalit community, who migrated from Bangladesh during and after the Partition. Being a migrant community, the proposed citizenship legislation is important to them and as such, the Matuas proved to be a strong support base for the BJP in the state during the 2019 Lok Sabha elections and thereafter.
The delayed implementation of the CAA, therefore, has been leading to a souring of Matua attitudes towards the BJP, which could harm the party’s political standing in the state.
The CAA was passed in the Lok Sabha on December 10, 2019 and in the Rajya Sabha two days later after it was introduced in the upper house by Shah. The move drew heavy criticism from politicians and citizens alike for ostensibly singling out Muslims and excluding them from its purview.
The Act aims to provide citizenship to Hindus, Parsis, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains and Christians purportedly fleeing persecution from India’s Muslim-majority neighbours; namely, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh.
The notable absence of Muslims from the provisions of the legislation, irrespective of whether or not they are being persecuted in their countries, as well as the unconstitutional nature of the legislation when coupled with the National Register of Citizens (NRC) had drawn widespread protests from thousands of citizens across the country.
Despite the protests and violence that ensued, the government notified the law in January 2020. Yet, the rules of the law are still to be framed, despite two-and-a-half years having passed.
The Union government’s failure to frame the rules has come under scrutiny in light of certain developments in the intervening years; for instance, the fact that around 800 Pakistani Hindus were forced to return to their home country in 2021 because they were unable to get citizenship.
Facing religious persecution in Pakistan, these Hindu migrants sought Indian citizenship through a fast-tracked route through an online citizenship portal. However, the notifications for this fast-tracked citizenship were made under the Citizenship Act, 1955 and not the CAA because the rules had not been framed.
Further, after a Sikh man was killed in an attack on a Gurudwara in Afghanistan’s Kabul in June this year, it came to light that around a hundred Sikhs and Hindus in Afghanistan had been awaiting approval for electronic visas to India despite applying for them before the Taliban took over the country.
Following the incident, and the deceased’s widow speaking to the media about his inability to obtain the visa, the Indian government granted ‘priority visas’ to the hundred-odd Hindus and Sikhs. However, in the letter written by Prime Minister Narendra Modi to the Afghan Sikhs in the aftermath of the incident, no mention was made of the CAA; an Act which, ostensibly, sought to avoid just such a situation by bringing back persecuted non-Muslims to India.