Citizenship Debate in the Constituent Assembly

  • IASbaba
  • December 10, 2021
  • 0
UPSC Articles
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  • GS-1: Modern History
  • GS-2: Historical Background of Indian Polity

Citizenship Debate in the Constituent Assembly

Context: With the contentious farm laws repealed, the discussions turn to the second most politically and legally resisted legislation of recent times, The Citizenship (Amendment) Act, 2019.

Citizenship in Constituent Assembly

  • The citizenship question had been one of the most gruelling tasks confronted by the drafting committee as admitted by Dr B.R.Ambedkar who said that multiple drafts were prepared and destroyed before arriving at a consensus, which may satisfy most people, if not all.
  • The secular and liberal provisions of the proposed draft and the official amendments were fiercely contested on the floor of the Constituent Assembly on religious, ethnic and hyper-nationalistic considerations.
  • Article 5 of the Constitution of India was criticised for its lack of exclusive and preferential provisions on religious lines regarding the declaration as to who shall be the citizen of India (as on the date of commencement of the Constitution). 
    • Dr P.S.Deshmukh from the Central Provinces and Berar proposed changes to Article 5 of the draft by proposing to replace the universally honoured “jus soli” principle by qualifying it with a religious appendage that “every person who is a Hindu or a Sikh by religion and is not a citizen of any other State, wherever he resides shall be entitled to be a citizen of India.”
  • Article 5A of the draft (Article 7 of the Constitution of India), was removed on the ground that its proviso sought to grant citizenship rights to the migrants of Pakistan who had returned to India under a permit for resettlement granted by Indian authorities.

The defenders

  • R.K.Sidhva from C.P. and Berar retorted that mentioning the name of some communities will make other communities feel that they were being ignored.
  • Jawaharalal Nehru supported the draft definition of citizenship on Universal (non-religious) basis and secularism in unequivocal terms.
  • Nehru did not mince words when he stated that “you cannot have rules for Hindus, for Muslims and for Christians only. It is absurd on the face of it”. 
  • With regard to Article 5A drafted, Nehru also impressed upon the possibility of the second wave of migration including non-Hindus and non-Sikhs who were part of the first wave influx. Hence, in his view, foreclosing the doors fearing the influx of some may deprive others of exercising their choice.
  • Brajeshwar Prasad, a member from Bihar, went further in stating that “I see no reason why a Muslim who is a citizen of this country should be deprived of his citizenship at the commencement of this Constitution, especially when we are inviting Hindus who have come to India from Pakistan to become citizens of this country. why cannot a Muhammadan of the frontier be so when we have always said that we are one?”
  • Mahboob Ali Baig went one step ahead by calling the proposition of Dr.Deshmukh as “ ridiculous” as it contemplated giving citizenship rights only to persons who are Hindus and Sikhs. 
  • Alladi Krishnaswamy Ayyar said “we cannot on any racial or religious or other grounds make a distinction between one kind of persons and another, or one sect of persons and another sect of persons having regard to our commitments and the formulation of our policy on various occasions.”

Challenge now

  • The assertion of Dr.Deshmukh that “by the mere fact that he is a Hindu or a Sikh, he should get Indian citizenship” finds its resonance today in the 2019 Citizenship Amendment Act that only people belonging to some faiths are victims of persecution and violence and the doors of the country can be legitimately shut to any other instance of persecution and ethnic violence.

The final outcome of Citizenship debate 

  • The amendment No. 164 proposed by Dr. Deshmukh modifying Article 5 to make citizenship as a matter of right to Hindus and Sikhs irrespective of the place of residence was rejected.
  • The Constituent Assembly debates on citizenship showed that utilising the sentiments of ethnicity and distrust, sagacity & maturity had an upper hand, leading to toleration & establishment of Secular state.

Connecting the dots:

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