Why a Congress Chief Minister requested for CAA 20 years ago

Protests have erupted as the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) was rolled out. The Citizenship Act of 1955 was amended in 2003 by the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government for Hindu refugees from Pakistan. The foundation for the latest CAA and the planned National Register of Citizens (NRC) was laid then.
Why a Congress Chief Minister requested for CAA 20 years ago
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"I would like to address one complaint that is widespread on every polling day, the omission of names from the electoral lists. I believe the denial of any Indian of the right to vote dilutes democracy," Deputy Prime Minister LK Advani said 20 years ago. He was speaking about the Hindu refugees from Pakistan who had settled in Rajasthan.

Advani was then the deputy Prime Minister of India and also the Home Minister in the Atal Bihari Vajpayee Cabinet. He was addressing an election rally in Rajasthan's Chittorgarh for the 2004 Lok Sabha polls.

"I would like to repeat my suggestion of a national register of citizens (NRC) and multipurpose national identity cards for all citizens," added Advani, months after the Citizenship Amendment Bill, tabled in 2003, received Presidential assent in January 2004.

The Citizenship Act of 1955 was first amended in 1985 for the Assam Accord, but it was the 2003 amendment that was the most significant. It is also believed to have laid the foundations for the Modi government's CAA of 2019.

The rules for the Citizenship Amendment Act of 2019 have been rolled out and protests have erupted in some places. The accommodation of persecuted minorities is also being questioned by some politicians. Amid all the attacks on the CAA, let us have a look at the amendment of 2003, which set in motion the process to give voting rights to Hindu refugees from Pakistan who were in India on long-term visas (LTVs).

The 2003 amendment was a significant policy shift in India's approach to handling Hindu migrants from Pakistan, particularly those facing religious persecution and seeking refuge in India.

Though the 2003 amendment is remembered for introducing the 'Overseas Citizen of India (OCI)' concept, it was also then that the mandate to the central government for a nationwide National register of Citizens (NRC) was issued.

Apart from the NRC, the amendment of the Citizenship Act in 2003 also mandated the issuance of national identity cards to all the registered citizens of India.

It has to be kept in mind that the NRC process for the country would be different from the Supreme Court-monitored NRC exercise in Assam.

The 2003 Citizenship Amendment Act was called a "hinge point" by Scholar Anupama Roy, in whose view, the Act paved way for the Citizenship Amendment Act of 2019 and the notion of a nation-wide National Register of Citizens (NRC), which is yet to be carried out.

The 2003 amendment to the Citizenship Act was initiated by LK Advani, the then Home Minister of India, in response to requests from the government of Rajasthan.

Interestingly, Rajasthan was then under Congress Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot.

Affidavits in the Supreme court from 2003 show repeated requests from Congress leader Ashok Gehlot, who was the Rajasthan chief minister until December 2003 and an opposition MLA in the Rajasthan assembly, thereafter.

Gehlot, "after considering the representation of refugees/displaced persons belonging to minority communities of Pakistan”, requested L K Advani “to issue statutory instructions” such as “delegation of powers to SDM etc to resolve the difficulties faced by Pakistan Hindu minority migrants for grant of visa and citizenship”, said the affidavit filed by the Union Ministry of Home Affairs starting March 2002.

Gehlot's letters to the Home Ministry mentioned the difficulties faced by "most of the helpless migrants belonging to Scheduled Castes (SCs) of Hindus".

He advocated for a speedy assimilation of Pakistani migrants residing in Rajasthan's bordering districts like Jaisalmer, Barmer and Jodhpur. Many migrants crossed over to India following the India-Pakistan wars of 1965 and 1971.

Although the 1971 Bangladesh war was fought in the east, certain theatres on India's western border with Pakistan, like Longewala and Kutch, also saw action.

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Why a Congress Chief Minister requested for CAA 20 years ago

As a result, after the passage of the amendment, among other changes, the amendmed citizenship rules granted six district magistrates in certain border districts of Rajasthan and Gujarat the authority to issue Long Term Visas (LTVs) and citizenship to Pakistani migrants.

As a result of the complex socio-political history of South Asia, characterised by historical tensions between India and Pakistan, the amendment was seen as necessary by the ruling Vajpayee government.

By empowering district magistrates in specific border districts, the government aimed to streamline the process for granting LTVs and citizenship, thereby providing relief to many who had been living in a state of uncertainty and legal limbo, through a localised approach.

Initially, the DMs were empowered to streamline the process for a year in 2004, but the same saw extentions twice till 2006.

Faced with religious and associated socio-economic persecution, many people and families from Pakistan had sought refuge in India's Rajasthan and Gujarat.

This delegation of power was initially for one year, but the same was extended for another year in 2005, and then again in 2006.

This 2003 policy of inclusivity, which was given statutory backing in 2004, continued over the years, and has seemingly come of age. The 2003 amendments initiated a more compassionate and pragmatic approach to dealing with migrants from Pakistan and beyond.

Source: India Today

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