Indian Home Minister Amit Shah with Prime Minister Narendra Modi. File photo/AFP
India's government plans to revive a bill that would give non-Muslim refugees citizenship even before a controversial citizen registry in one northeastern state has been finalized, Home Minister Amit Shah said Tuesday.
Shah, the leader of Prime Minister Narendra Modi's Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party, said in a speech in Kolkata that the party would give "Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Jain and Christian settlers" citizenship.
The proposal, framed as the Citizenship Amendment Bill, has stalled in the upper house of Parliament. It would grant citizenship to non-Muslim refugees from countries like Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan who have resided in India for at least six years.
A list of citizens in the northeastern state of Assam that was published in August left out nearly 2 million residents, potentially rendering them stateless. People whose names were left off the list had 60 days to appeal to quasi-legal tribunals to prove their citizenship.
The process was based on voluntary applications rather than a home-to-home census. All residents of Assam, which shares a long, porous border with Bangladesh, were invited to apply to be included on the list with documentation that would prove their lineage to a bona fide resident of the state on or before March 24, 1971, when Bangladesh became an independent country.
BJP supported the process, which critics have decried as a naked attempt to deport millions of minority Muslims, many of whom entered India from neighboring Bangladesh. But those who have been leading the fight for such a list say the project is meant to protect the cultural identity of Assam's indigenous people, no matter what their faith is.
Shah said the registry would extend to West Bengal, but that non-Muslims would be protected from potentially losing their citizenship because of the citizenship amendment bill.
"I want to promise you, we won't let a single infiltrator stay," Shah said Tuesday.
West Bengal minister Mamata Banerjee has called the citizens' registry a "fiasco."
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