New Delhi, Jan 18 : "There can be no proof of religious persecution", said BJP's most recognised and influential leader in the northeast - Himanta Biswa Sarma, sparking off speculation whether he had dehyphenated "religious persecution" and the Citizenship Amendment Act.
Speaking to the media, the BJP's northeast strategist and NEDA convenor said, "We cannot rule how a person has to prove that he is religiously persecuted. If we have this rule one will have to go to Bangladesh and obtain from a police station that he was religiously persecuted. Why will a police station in Bangladesh do this, why will Bangladesh give any such document?" So, does that mean proving 'religious persecution' as mentioned in the contentious Citizenship Amendment Act will no longer be necessary? Actually, no.
Sarma elaborated, "However government of India has an in-house procedure in the back office and its agencies will assess if a particular applicant was there in the place he is mentioning. Rules for CAA are being made. The state government has held discussions with the Centre. And once the rules are ready, the state government will be in a position to remove the misconception about the number of people who would get citizenship." However, the Assam minister did not elaborate on what he meant by "in-house procedure in the back office".
The CAA makes it easier for non-Muslim immigrants facing religious persecution in the Muslim-majority nations of Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan to become Indian citizens and reduces the stipulated number of years one needs to spend in India for applying for citizenship.
Sarma's comment has given ammunition to the opposition to claim that the projected intention for bringing in the legislation was never the same as its actual reality.
The Congress party soon hit back from its official Twitter handle, saying: "Several BJP leaders have been giving contradictory statements on the unconstitutional CAA including the PM & Home Minister. It is either to confuse the people or BJP itself has no idea about the Act?" Meanwhile, Swaraj India leader Yogendra Yadav used this statement to allege: "Thanks Himanta Biswa Sarma for acknowledging that what your party spokespersons say on TV debates is a lie, that CAA rules have nothing to do with religious persecution. At least you are honest." Though, Sarma has not completely delinked 'religious persecution' from CAA, but raised a practical probability the opposition that has come out strongly against the legislation, calling it "unconstitutional" and has found a reason to target the Centre.
The CAA has been challenged in the Supreme Court which has issued notice to the Centre on a batch of 59 petitions. All of them challenged its Constitutional validity.