Demanding the withdrawal of the new citizenship law, twenty Opposition parties led by the Congress Monday called upon all Chief Ministers “who have announced that they will not implement NRC” in their states to consider suspending the NPR enumeration “as this is a prelude to NRC”.
The meeting of the Opposition parties, convened by Congress president Sonia Gandhi against the backdrop of continuing protests against the Citizenship (Amendment) Act and the proposed nationwide National Register of Citizens, made a conscious attempt to link the protests to economic distress.
They said that the Modi government had created an economic disaster and, instead of providing relief to the people, had embarked on a “dangerous course of sharpening communal polarization and attacking democratic rights and Constitutional guarantees of the people, affecting millions of people and marginalized communities”.
“The CAA, NPR and NRC is a package that is unconstitutional, which specifically targets the poor, the downtrodden, the SC/STs and the linguistic and religious minorities. The NPR is the basis for the NRC. We demand the withdrawal of the CAA and the immediate stoppage of the nationwide NRC/NPR. All the Chief Ministers, who have announced that they will not implement NRC in their State, must consider to suspend the NPR enumeration as this is a prelude to NRC,” their resolution stated.
The show of Opposition unity did not exactly go the way it was planned with seven major parties — Trinamool Congress, DMK, BSP, SP, TDP, Shiv Sena and AAP which have 83 MPs in Lok Sabha — staying away, revealing the inherent contradictions in the Opposition camp.
Other than the Congress, those present were NCP, CPM, CPI, JMM, LJD, Rashtriya Lok Samata Party, RJD, National Conference, IUML, RSP, Forward Bloc, Kerala Congress (M), AIUDF, PDP, RLD, HAM, Swabhimani Paksha, VCK and JD(S). These 19 parties have 22 MPs while Congress has 52.
Sources said former Congress president Rahul Gandhi told the meeting that the government was “misguiding the young generation” and that the Opposition should highlight that the CAA and talk of nationwide NRC were an attempt to “divert their attention”. He said the focus of the Opposition should be on economic distress and job losses.
Sonia Gandhi said: “There have been nationwide spontaneous protests by the youth supported by citizens from all walks of life. The immediate cause is the CAA and NRC but they reflect widespread frustration and pent-up anger, which is now out in the open… The real issue facing India today is the collapse of economic activity and slowing growth and development, affecting all sections of society, especially the poor and disadvantaged. The Prime Minister and Home Minister have no answers and want to divert the nation’s attention from this grim reality by raising one divisive and polarizing issue after another. It is for us to work together and thwart the designs of this government.”
The other leaders agreed but said the parties should at the same time “not let down” lakhs of people who were already on the streets. Many leaders felt the Opposition was already late and protests on the streets were taking place despite them not leading or participating in it.
The parties decided to celebrate the birth anniversary of Subhash Chandra Bose on January 23, organise readings of the Preamble of the Constitution on Republic Day and mark the death anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi on January 30 by highlighting his campaigns in pursuit of communal harmony.
The absence of DMK and Shiv Sena at the meeting stood out because the former is an ally of the Congress in Tamil Nadu and the latter its power-sharing partner in Maharashtra. The SP, which had confirmed that it will attend the meeting, changed its mind at the last minute.
Senior DMK leader T R Baalu was in Delhi but was told not to attend the meeting. Ties between the DMK and Congress in Tamil Nadu have been under strain over seat-sharing in local body polls with the Congress accusing the DMK of not following the coalition dharma.
The AAP, which is pitted again the Congress in Delhi for the assembly elections next month, also stayed away. Asked about the party’s absence, AAP leader Sanjay Singh said: “We were not even invited.”
Meanwhile, TMC chief Mamata Banerjee, who had announced last week that she would not attend the Delhi meeting, appealed to all state and regional parties to start a movement against CAA, NRC and NPR. “Wherever, whoever is strong, start a movement there against CAA, NRC and NPR. We offer solidarity to all regional parties. If this movement is not done, people of India will not forgive you,” she said.
She said her campaign would resume from the hill areas of West Bengal after the Gangasagar fair. “Our movement will continue until the central government withdraws CAA and stops NRC and NPR,” she said.
In Mumbai, the Shiv Sena indicated for the first time that the CAA may not be implemented in Maharashtra, saying some points in the new citizenship law need a rethink.
“Not just the CAA but there is a consensus in the Maha Vikas Aghadi (coalition of Sena, NCP and Congress in Maharashtra) on all the issues,” Raut told reporters in response to a query on whether there was consensus among the three parties on CAA.
“There are some points in CAA which need a rethink. The same has also been reiterated by Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray repeatedly,” he said.
The Sena had not taken a clear stand so far on the CAA and its implementation in the state. During the assembly session in Nagpur last month, Uddhav Thackeray, referring to the ongoing protests, said that the state government will not touch the rights of all citizens of all castes and religions. Their rights, he said, will be protected in the state.
Raut said the Sena did not attend the meeting due to a “miscommunication”. “There was some miscommunication. I have spoken to CM Uddhav Thackeray and senior Congress leader Ahmed Patel. We have put in a place a system in Sena and Congress to avoid such miscommunication henceforth,” he said.
Prasad slams Oppn resolution
Union minister and BJP leader Ravi Shankar Prasad took a swipe at the Opposition resolution against the CAA, saying it must have made Pakistan happy. “Opposition unity stands exposed as major parties like SP, BSP, TMC and AAP kept away… The resolution is neither in national interest nor in the interest of security. It is also not in the interest of those minorities who fled neighbouring countries to escape persecution,” he said.