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Senior Congress leader and Rajya Sabha MP Jairam Ramesh spoke to The Quint amid the nationwide protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act, which is being seen by many as discriminatory in nature and against the tenets of the Indian Constitution.
Below are excerpts from the interview:
‘BJP Was Consistently Opposed to Inner Line Permit in the Northeast’
Let’s start by talking about the issue that’s top of the mind — the CAA. In your earlier roles, such as Union rural development minister, you batted for the Northeast. Today, would you support some of the views on CAA emerging from the Northeast, for example, those from certain Assamese ethnic groups?
Jairam Ramesh: Well, you know, I think I have travelled extensively in the Northeast a couple of weeks ago and I have spoken to a very large number of people. Well, obviously, there is a lot of uncertainty, a lot of fear among these ethnic groups in Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland, Mizoram and Assam, and the government has tried to come up with sops. It’s very interesting, you know — one of the instruments that has been used ever since Pandit Nehru’s time is the ILP, the Inner Line Permit, which regulates movement of people from the rest of the country to the areas which are designated as ILP areas.
“Now, the BJP was consistently opposed to the idea of the ILP because it said that it encourages separatism. But what does it do when there was opposition in Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland, Mizoram, and now in Manipur? They have promised that they will be covered by the same Inner Line Permit which they criticised when Mr Nehru was the prime minister. So, these are clearly double standards that have been adopted by the government.”Jairam Ramesh to The Quint’s Indira Basu
‘Makers of India’s Constitution Rejected Religion As Criterion For Citizenship’
The Modi government has repeatedly said that CAA won’t have any bearing on any Indian citizen. If that is really the case, could you please explain why different sections are protesting against it?
Jairam Ramesh: You see, you can’t divorce the Citizenship Amendment Act from the National Register of Citizens. It’s true, purely and legalistically, that the Citizenship Amendment Act, as it stands today, applies only to migrants... particularly the migrants from these three countries — Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan. However, the CAA opens the doors to the NRC, and the NRC affects everybody. It affects me, it affects you, it affects everybody, because what it does is you have to provide papers and documentation to show that you are an authentic Indian citizen, and by the CAA, anybody who is a Hindu automatically becomes a citizen of this country. So, I think there is the fear... not so much on the Citizenship Amendment Act applying to the existing citizens, but it’s the National Register of Citizens, the NRC exercise that is carried out, and in Assam, for example, 19 lakh people were simply not there on the NRC, so they are now classified as ‘foreigners’.
‘What’s the Govt’s Solution? A Detention Centre?’
“Where are you going to send them? You can’t send them to any of these countries, you don’t have an extradition treaty with Bangladesh. So, what are you going to do? And the solution the government has come up with is a detention centre. Now, the concept of a detention centre — and I have seen one of these detention centres in Silchar very recently in Assam in the Barak valley — this is a blot on any democratic society and it is a hark back to the concentration camps that were there during Nazi Germany,” Jairam Ramesh continued.
“We have never made religion as a basis of determining citizenship in our country. This is for the first time — for the first time — in 70 years that religion is being used to determine citizenship, and that’s why it is unconstitutional. Remember, the subcontinent was partitioned in 1947, that was on the basis of religion no doubt, but the Constitution came in 1950. The Constitution comes AFTER Partition, and our Constitution-makers, our founding fathers, Ambedkar, Nehru, Patel, Prasad, Azad, all of them wiser after the events of Partition no doubt, consciously, deliberately, unequivocally, categorically rejected the idea that religion should be a criterion for determining citizenship.”Jairam Ramesh to The Quint’s Indira Basu
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