The Communist Party of India (Marxist) (CPIM) may be vehemently against the Citizenship Amendment Bill (CAB) now but there was a time when it was in favour of according citizenship rights to Bengali Hindus from Bangladesh. It was not in some distant past but as recent as 2012 that the CPIM demanded an amendment to the Citizenship Act so that Bengali Hindus from Bangladesh could live a life of dignity in India.
In a resolution adopted at the 20th Congress of the CPI(M) in April 2012, the party demanded that “a suitable amendment in Clause 2 (i) (b) of the said Citizenship Act in relation to the Bangladesh minority community refugees. This must be done while protecting the Assam accord which is relevant to the specific situation in Assam. It demands that the Central Government bring such an amendment in the forthcoming budget session of Parliament.”
In the said resolution, the CPI(M) also recalled the Parliamentary discussion on the Citizenship Amendment Act, 2003, when “all political parties from across the spectrum had supported an amendment to protect these citizens who are victims of historical circumstances.” The party expressed sorrow that “even after so many years the law considers them illegal migrants. There are cases where they have been treated like criminals.”
In the presumed discussion referred to by the CPI(M), former Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh, who was then the Leader of Opposition in the Rajya Sabha, said, “It is our moral obligation that if circumstances force people, these unfortunate people, to seek refuge in our country, our approach to granting citizenship to these unfortunate persons should be more liberal”.
A lot of water has flown under the bridge since then. Manmohan Singh’s party now compares the efforts to grant persecuted minorities from the neighbouring Islamic States to an ‘ethnic cleansing’ of people from the North East. Similarly, CPI(M) stalwart Sitaram Yechury calls the CAB a “bill of Jinnah and Savarkar’s dreams”.
We reject this bill of Jinnah and Savarkar’s dreams. It is unconstitutional, and divides our people. We will continue to fight against it in all possible forums.
— Sitaram Yechury (@SitaramYechury) December 9, 2019
In a similar vein, Pinarayi Vijayan, the Communist Chief Minister of Kerala, called it a devious plan to divide people along religious lines. He said, “The Constitution of India guarantees the right to citizenship for all Indians; irrespective of their religion, caste, language, culture, gender or profession. This very right is being made void by the Citizenship Amendment Bill. A move to decide citizenship on the basis of religion amounts to a rejection of the Constitution. This is an exercise to divide people on communal lines. The bill, which aims to enervate our secular unity, was passed by the Lok Sabha with unusual haste and tenacity.”
In 2012, the party had declared, “It assures these communities the support of the CPI (M) in their struggle for their genuine demands.” However, seven years later, such solemn vows have been forsaken for the purpose of electoral politics. It appears that the CPI(M) is not opposed to the CAB in principle, it’s opposing it vociferously only because it’s the BJP which has tabled the Bill and the electoral benefits will accordingly go to the Saffron Party.
The CPI(M) and Congress party’s newfound opposition to the Bill does call into question their integrity and the seriousness of their promises. In seven years, the CPI(M) has abandoned the Bengali Hindus from Bangladesh it claimed to care about so much. The Congress, of course, had abandoned Hindus in general much earlier.