Home Minister Amit Shah responded to angry protests by opposition leaders over introduction of the citizenship amendment bill in the Lok Sabha on Monday with a sharp attack on the Congress, blaming it for the Partition on religious lines.
"Let me tell you why this bill is needed. It is needed because the Congress partitioned this country on the ground of religion…. Who did it? The Congress divided the country on the basis of religion.
That was done by the Congress... This is the history," Amit Shah said in the Lok Sabha after a Congress-led opposition delayed introduction of the bill.
In 1950, the Nehru-Liaqat pact was signed to guarantee protection of religious minorities. While this assurance was fully implemented in India, it was never implemented in both Pakistan and Bangladesh, which was then a part of Pakistan. This was reasonable classification for giving citizenship to Hindus, Parsis, Sikhs and Jains and Buddhists from Afghanistan, Pakistan and Bangladesh.
"If this bill violates Article 14 (equality before law), then why do minorities get special privileges in this country," Shah said, drawing sharp reactions from the Opposition.
A headcount carried out at the end of the debate on parliament's legislative competence voted overwhelmingly - 293 in support vs 82 against - in favour of introducing the bill.
The bill will be taken up for debate later in the evening when it is expected to be passed. Opposition members have insisted that the bill which makes it easier for non-Muslim refugees from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan to get citizenship violates the Constitution because it discriminates against people on the basis of religion.
Shah said the provision to fast-track citizenship for non-Muslims was a "reasonable classification" since the three states were Islamic states and would not persecute Muslims.
The home minister also contested the charge that the bill would disqualify Muslims from the three countries to apply for citizenship.
If any Muslim petitions for citizenship from these countries, "we will consider it with an open mind but they will not get the benefit of this bill" as Muslims wouldn't have faced religious persecution, the Union Home Minister explained after nearly a dozen opposition parliamentarians spoke against the contentious bill.
The bill has also triggered protests in the northeast over worries that it would lead to an influx of religious minorities and hurt the interests of indigenous communities in the region. Shah promised that they did not need to worry on this account.
Congress' Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury who led the charge against the bill had alleged that the bill was targeted against Muslims and went against the constitutional guarantee of equality before the law.
Shashi Tharoor added that the constitution guaranteed "equal protection of laws" to all persons, including non-citizens.