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12 Mar, 2024 11:02

India implements controversial citizenship law ahead of general polls

The measure seeks to fast-track processes for undocumented migrants of ethnic minorities from neighboring nations
India implements controversial citizenship law ahead of general polls

Protests have broken out in India after a controversial new citizenship law entered into force on Monday. The measure grants fast-tracked citizenship to undocumented migrants from the Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Jain, Parsi, or Christian communities from Afghanistan, Bangladesh, or Pakistan who entered India on or before December 31, 2014.

The Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) seeks to halve the residence requirement for citizenship for eligible migrants from 12 years to six. Nearly 30,000 people are likely to be naturalized under the scheme.

It was initially passed in December 2019, months after the Narendra Modi-led Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) won its second straight election. In the lead-up to the initial vote in parliament, widespread protests broke out in India’s northeastern states, which share a border with Bangladesh and are especially vocal against illegal immigration.

Protests likewise erupted nationwide after the bill was approved as critics questioned why it did not mention Muslims. The move to implement the law comes weeks ahead of a general election that the BJP is widely expected to win, meaning Modi is set to return as prime minister for a third term.

After the announcement that the law had entered force, protests were reported in areas including the city of Guwahati in Assam, the initial epicenter of the unrest, RT learned from sources.

Explaining the previous setback with introducing the law, the Indian Home Ministry claimed it had been delayed due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

“The Constitution of India grants us the right to provide religious persecuted refugees with fundamental rights and to grant citizenship from a humanitarian perspective,” it said in a statement. It also launched a portal where eligible people can register for citizenship.

Opposition parties have vehemently opposed the CAA and renewed their attacks against the Modi-led government on Monday, questioning the timing of the notification.

Jairam Ramesh, a prominent figure in the Congress, India’s largest opposition party, claimed in a post on X (formerly Twitter) that the law is “designed to polarize the elections.” Pinarayi Vijayan, a Communist Party of India member and the chief minister of Kerala state, insisted he would not allow the CAA to be implemented in the region.

“Give asylum to anyone who is persecuted but citizenship must not be based on religion or nationality,” said Asaduddin Owaisi, leader of the All India Majlis-E-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM) party. “The CAA is meant to only target Muslims.”

Modi’s government has committed to enacting the CAA, arguing that India is the natural home of all “persecuted” Hindus. The administration previously fulfilled two of its core pre-poll promises – the abrogation of Article 370 giving special status to the Jammu and Kashmir region, and building a temple devoted to the deity Ram on the site of a razed mosque in Ayodhya, Uttar Pradesh.