Prime Minister Narendra Modi's government is set to push ahead with a controversial bill to grant Indian citizenship to non-Muslim illegal migrants from neighboring countries, a move that is expected to lead to heated debates as parliament reconvenes.
The legislation seeks to provide citizenship to Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsees or Christians from Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan. Muslims are excluded from the list. Modi's political opponents say the move to shelter non-Muslim refugees is a way for the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party to push its Hindu nationalist ideology.
Home Minister Amit Shah has defended the proposed legislation by saying that Muslims do not face persecution in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Bangladesh and therefore do not qualify. "If someone comes here to earn a livelihood or to disrupt law and order, then they are intruders," Shah said in a TV interview last month.
"This is absolutely unconstitutional. The main purpose of the bill is actually to target Muslims who have migrated to India," said Suhas Chakma, a human rights expert and director of the New Delhi-based Rights and Risks Analysis Group. "It is a divisive policy."
The move is likely to raise fears among India's Muslim minority. In the northeastern state of Assam some 1.9 million people, mostly Muslims, face the risk of losing their citizenship as Modi's government seeks to enforce a National Register of Citizens to weed out illegal migrants. The register of citizens in Assam does not distinguish so-called illegal immigrants on the basis of religion but the proposed Citizenship Bill will exclude Muslims.
This is the second time the Modi administration has attempted to amend India's Citizenship Bill. The legislation was passed in the lower house of parliament in January, but lapsed as the upper house didn't take it up.
The rest of the winter session of parliament, which is scheduled to end on Dec. 13, will be dominated by economic legislation as the government seeks to revive Asia's third-largest economy that expanded at the slowest pace in six years in the quarter ended June.