Nearly two months after it was cleared by both Houses of Parliament, the amended citizenship law is set to emerge as a new battleground during the ongoing Budget session — at least in the Rajya Sabha.
In a first for the party, the Trinamool Congress has moved amendments to the President’s address delivered Friday, when the session kicked off, raising questions on its “silence” on a range of issues from the Citizenship (Amendment) Act and the Kashmir clampdown to the economic slowdown.
Party sources said its leaders in the Upper House — Parliamentary party leader Derek O’Brien and Chief Whip Sukhendu Sekhar Ray — have moved amendments to include the ongoing anti-CAA protests, the proposed nationwide National Register of Citizens, and the National Population Register in the speech.
Similar amendments would also be moved by the party in the Lok Sabha, sources said. The Trinamool has 22 MPs in the Lok Sabha and 13 in the Rajya Sabha. On Friday, the main Opposition Congress party had staged a protest against the CAA in Parliament before the President’s speech.
Sources said Trinamool’s amendments seek additions at the end of the Motion of Thanks to the speech that express regret on the failure to “acknowledge the hardships and anxieties of people caused due to the passing of the Citizenship Amendment Act, 2019” and “allay the people’s fear of a nationwide NRC and NPR”.
They also seek to express regret that the speech did not take into account the “hardships of peaceful protesters, including students who were illegally detained, denied medical care, lathicharged, fired at and subjected to other forms of torture”.
One amendment refers to the economic slowdown, the falling GDP growth rate, rising inflation and the unemployment rate. Another amendment regrets the silence in the speech on the drop in India’s ranking on the Global Press Freedom Index and the EIU’s Global Democracy Index, and a low rank on the Global Hunger Index.
They also seek to express regret at the failure to “condemn the hate speech and divisive statements made by Ministers and Members of Parliament” and the silence on the “six-month-long detention of political leaders including sitting Members of Parliament from Jammu and Kashmir and former Chief Ministers of the State”.
This will not be the first time during the BJP-led government’s term that amendments are being moved by the Opposition on the President’s address.
In 2016, Leader of Opposition Ghulam Nabi Azad had pressed for an amendment that sought to express regret that the address did not express concern over making educational qualifications a mandatory eligibility to contest Panchayat elections which, it said, goes against the interests of the poor, Dalits, and backward classes. The amendment was passed, with the Opposition rallying together.
In 2015, the Opposition in Rajya Sabha managed to push through CPM leader Sitaram Yechury’s amendment against the lack of any mention of the return of “black money” in the President’s address.
This time, however, a string of retirements and resignations, and new entries to the BJP, have changed the equation in favour of the government as was evident by the passage of contentious Bills on Triple Talaq, Kashmir and the CAA.
The Opposition is still pressing ahead, given the sustained countrywide protests against the CAA and the proposed nationwide NRC. It hopes to gain the support of some NDA allies like JD(U), LJP and SAD, or fence-sitters such as AIADMK and BJD, particularly on NRC that has the potential to draw support from across the aisle.
The Opposition efforts face a stiff challenge from within, though, with a rift emerging between the Trinamool and Congress. Last month, TMC chief Mamata Banerjee had skipped an Opposition meeting on the CAA citing “dirty politics” by the Left and Congress in West Bengal.
The Citizenship (Amendment) Bill was passed in the Lok Sabha on December 4 and in the Rajya Sabha a week later. It seeks to grant citizenship to Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Christians, Jains and Parsis — but not Muslims — who entered the country from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan until December 31, 2014.
The Trinamool, meanwhile, has also given notice for a discussion in the Rajya Sabha on the “Raging anti CAA-NRC-NRP people’s movement in India”.
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