On January 8, 2018, the Lok Sabha passed the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2016. The Bill, by amending the Citizenship Act 1955, made illegal migrants from the Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Christian and Parsis communities from Bangladesh, Afghanistan and Pakistan, eligible for Indian citizenship. It excludes Muslims and effectively regulates citizenship on the basis of religion.
On 11 August 1949, the Constituent Assembly was neck-deep in drafting the Indian Constitution’s citizenship provisions. P.S. Deshmukh moved an amendment proposing ‘that every person who is a Hindu or a Sikh and is not a citizen of any other State shall be entitled to be a citizen of India’. If Pakistan was created as a home for Muslims, he argued, there was no reason why India could not be understood as a home for Hindus and Sikhs.
Deshmukh was part a group of members in the Assembly who felt that the citizenship provisions of the Draft Constitution and the amendments moved by B.R. Ambedkar in the Assembly, amounted to appeasement. They suggested the Drafting Committee was going out of its way to make it less hard for Muslims – those who migrated to Pakistan from India but then decided to come back – to obtain Indian citizenship.
Nehru came to the defence of the Draft Constitution and Ambedkar’s amendments. He insisted that citizenship should not be hyphenated with religion in any way -
‘you cannot in any such provision lay down more or less whom you like and whom you dislike; you have to lay down certain principles…you cannot have rules for Hindus, Muslims, or Christians only…’.
Nehru also addressed the ‘appeasement’ charge -
Do the honourable Members who talk of appeasement think that some kind of rule should be applied when dealing with these people [potential candidates for citizenship] which has nothing to do with justice or equity? I want a clear answer to that. If so, I would only plead for appeasement.
At the end of the debate, the Assembly rejected Deshmukh's proposal and adopted the Draft Constitution’s citizenship provisions including Ambedkar’s amendments. It remains to be seen if the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill 2016, which has now lapsed, would be reintroduced in parliament in the next session and another attempt would be made to reverse the Assembly’s decision to de-link religion and citizenship.