Just as the debate rages over the implementation of the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, Maharashtra’s former Chief Minister and senior Congress leader Prithviraj Chavan on Monday labelled the CAA, the National Register of Citizens (NRC) and the National Population Register (NPR) as components of BJP’s Hindutva project aimed at the 2024 Lok Sabha polls.
Deviating from the popular narrative of Opposition leaders that these moves were a diversionary tactic of the ruling party to distract from the deep crisis faced by the Indian economy, the former chief minister, who was speaking at The Indian Express Idea Exchange in Mumbai, said that “while this may be a convenient argument from the Opposition’s point of view, it wasn’t an honest one.” Elaborating, he said, “It is incorrect to state that the BJP had enacted these measures in haste. The project has been in the works since 2015 when the passport rules were amended to mention three countries (Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan) and six religions. But nobody looked at it then. Even the media missed it.”
Chavan also admitted that a “fear of backlash from the majority community in the Opposition space” was stopping political parties from leading the agitation against these moves from the front. “The BJP’s project is an attack on the secular fabric of the Constitution. But there is a genuine fear in the Opposition space that if you take the agenda too far (against it), there would be a backlash from the majority. This is exactly what the BJP is also banking on. But this isn’t about appeasement of the minorities. It is about a threat to the secular fabric of the Constitution. While it is heartening to see young students come out in protest, I agree that political parties should lead political agitations,” he said.
He also alleged that there seemed to be a “slight difference of opinion” between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Union Home Minister Amit Shah over the moves’ implementation. “Modi’s own popularity has taken a huge beating, even internationally, owing to the economic crisis, the Kashmir issue, and the CAA agenda. He should be worried,” said Chavan.
But Chavan, who has been a vocal opponent of Modi government’s policies and ideologies, contended that neither the “dent in Modi’s popularity” nor the “widespread protests over the CAA and the NRC” would do anything to stop BJP from sharpening its Hindutva agenda in days to come.
“They will continue to bulldoze the agenda and divide the country. Whether the state assemblies pass a resolution against it or not, they will implement these nevertheless,” he said. Chavan, who was a Minister of State in the PMO during Manmohan Singh’s term, also debunked the BJP’s contention that the Singh regime itself had initiated steps regarding the NPR in 2010. “This is a canard being spread by the BJP. All of us are falling for it. The fact is that we (the UPA) did not enact any law regarding the NPR. It was the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government that had brought it in 2003 itself.” He added, “The Citizenship Act was formulated in 1955 and has since been amended several times. But a major amendment came in 2003 (December 10,2003) when the then Vajpayee government first introduced the concept of Citizenship Register and the NPR. It is true that we (the Congress) did not object to it then as the spirit of the law was to issue national identity cards to the citizens. But you see the real culprit is the CAA. For the first time a concept of discrimination on the basis of religion is being done. This is an attack on the secular structure of the Constitution and we are opposed to it in principle.”
On Congress’s experiment in Maharashtra where it has joined hands with the Shiv Sena and Nationalist Congress Party to form a Maha Vikas Aghadi government, Chavan admitted that the “formation was not looking ideologically cohesive so far.” The Uddhav Thackeray-led formation had come to power on November 28, after an 80-hour Devendra Fadnavis government, propped up with the support of NCP’s Ajit Pawar, had collapsed. Chavan batted for early formation of a coordination committee, comprising senior leaders of the three parties, outside of the government, for a more “unified stance” on various issues. Reiterating a point he had made earlier, Chavan stressed that while a suggestion to form an alternate government involving the three parties had been made even after the assembly elections of 2014, it was unthinkable then. Accusing the previous Devendra Fadnavis-led regime of using coercion, money power, blackmail, and inducements to decimate the opposition, Chavan argued that “if the three parties hadn’t come together this time, we could have been wiped out.” About 39 sitting MPs/MLAs of the Congress and NCP were “forced” to shift allegiance before elections. All cooperative institutions were threatened with dire consequenes if they didn’t shift loyalties. “It was the fear that we would have been wiped out due to the machinations of Shah and Fadnavis that got us to come together. There was a danger to democracy. They were working towards a one-party rule,” argued Chavan. He also accused the Fadnavis regime of failing to complete even a single infrastructure project in the past five years. “What has he done? Which project has he completed,” Chavan asked, while arguing that Maharashtra was no longer country’s most favoured investment destination and Mumbai had also lost its status as the financial capital during the “Fadnavis raj”.
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