President Ram Nath Kovind on Friday hailed the Citizenship Amendment Act as a historic move, but did not mention the National Register of Citizens, which is a proposed exercise to identify undocumented immigrants, in his address to the joint sitting of both Houses of Parliament on the first day of the Budget Session.
Widespread protests against both the amended citizenship law and the citizens’ register have been going on across India since mid December. The Citizenship Amendment Act provides citizenship to refugees from six minority religious communities from Bangladesh, Afghanistan and Pakistan, provided they have lived in India for six years and entered the country by December 31, 2014. The government’s critics fear that the amended law, clubbed with NRC, will be misused to target Muslims since the Citizenship Act now has religion as a criterion. Work has also begun on the National Population Register, which is the first step towards creating a citizens’ register.
The president said India has always believed in the principle of equal respect for all faiths. “However, at the time of Partition, this very belief of India and of its people came under the most severe attack,” he added. “In the environment prevailing in the aftermath of partition, the Father of the Nation Mahatma Gandhi had said: ‘Hindus and Sikhs of Pakistan, who do not wish to live there, can come to India. It is the duty of the Government of India to ensure a normal life for them.’”
Kovind said he was happy that both Houses of Parliament fulfilled this wish by enacting the Citizenship Amendment Act. “At a time when the country is celebrating the 150th birth anniversary of Gandhi ji, all of you have given paramount consideration to this sentiment. I congratulate both the Houses of Parliament and all the MPs for this,” he added.
The president made it clear that the “procedure to grant citizenship to people of all religions and those who have faith in India and keen to take Indian citizenship remains as it was”. “Debate and discussions strengthen democracy but violence during protests weaken democracy,” Kovind said without mentioning the anti-Citizenship Act protests.
However, as soon as the president made the remarks about the citizenship law some Opposition members shouted “shame shame” and displayed banners. Congress leader P Chidambaram said the president’s address “was tiresome repetition of old slogans and old cliches that have lost all meaning in the last few years”.
“Whether your government believes these values strengthen democracy doesn’t matter, they are not interested in democracy, they want dictatorship,” the party tweeted. “And so, they spew hatred, incite violence, condone police brutality, crackdown on free speech & peaceful protest & disrespect the Constitution.”
President Kovind said fundamentals of the economy are strong and all out efforts were being made to make India a $5 trillion economy. Kovind pointed out that foreign exchange reserves were at a record high and the Foreign Direct Investment inflow was on the rise.
“... government is committed to attaining the goal of making India a USD 5 trillion economy. Towards this objective, government is making efforts at all levels of the economy in consultation with all stakeholders,” he added.
Chidambaram, however, said Kovind did not talk about the macro-economic situation. “Not a word on lost jobs, increasing unemployment and rising consumer price inflation,” the Congress leader added. “Not a word on the closure of thousands of industries, especially in the SME sector. The government is clueless, and therefore the president’s address was silent, on dwindling investment and rising number of stalled projects. The future of the manufacturing sector is bleak.”