Despite a U-turn by its former ally Shiv Sena, and murmurs of dissent within its alliance partner JD(U), the government is all set to get the numbers required to pass the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2019, in the Rajya Sabha Wednesday.
The Bill, which was cleared by the Lok Sabha with a 311-80 margin at 12.02 am Tuesday, seeks to provide Indian citizenship to non-Muslims who entered the country from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan until December 31, 2014.
Setting the stage for the next round, Sena chief and Maharashtra Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray said his party would not back the Bill in the Rajya Sabha if its queries are not addressed by the government. The Sena has three MPs in the Upper House, which has a current strength of 240. Meanwhile, senior JD(U) leader Pavan K Varma echoed reservations expressed by his colleague Prashant Kishor over the Bill, and asked party president and Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar to “reconsider” its position. But sources in Patna said the JD(U) is unlikely to change its stance in the Rajya Sabha where it has six MPs.
While government sources said they were confident of getting the Bill through, Opposition members said they would “make them bleed” with the TMC alone planning to move 20 amendments.
With the BJP’s 83 MPs and those of its allies, such as JD(U) and SAD (3) and others — regional parties such as AIADMK (11), BJD (7) and YSR Congress (2) are favourably inclined — the government is eyeing at least 128 votes in its support, without the Sena. This calculation leaves the Opposition, including Congress, Trinamool Congress, DMK, SP, Left parties and others — the TRS voted against the Bill in Lok Sabha — with 112 votes.
In Mumbai, Sena sources said that Thackeray had to clarify the party’s new position on the Bill after its 18 MPs in the Lok Sabha did not follow his instructions to walk out during voting Monday.
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A Sena leader said that two-three senior party MPs were not present when discussions on the Bill were taking place. “So, the message could not be communicated to other party MPs. When they returned, they did not get a chance to raise their points and the Bill was put up for voting,” the leader said.
Numbers favour govt in RS
The Shiv Sena’s U-turn reflects the new political alignment in Maharashtra and the JD(U) is trying to strike a balance with Bihar going to polls next year. But the government is eyeing at least 128 votes in the 240-member RS to push the CAB through.
“Uddhav has given a dressing down to two senior MPs for causing embarrassment to him and to the party,” he said. Thackeray said the party had asked the government “many questions” on the Bill. “Those questions, we thought, would be answered, ranging from national security to rights of locals in various states. If these queries are not answered, we won’t support the CAB in Rajya Sabha,” he said.
“There’s a perception that whoever votes with the central government is a patriot and who votes against is anti-national. We must get out of that illusion,” he said.
A Sena leader said the party had suggested to the central government that voting rights should not be given to “infiltrators” for the next 25 years “to avoid votebank politics”.
In Patna, JD(U) sources said that despite the dissenting voices, Nitish Kumar is unlikely to take action against Varma and Kishor. Sources said the dissent “might be a tactical move” to gauge the mood among the JD(U) votebase on a Bill that has been described by Opposition parties as “divisive” and “communal”.
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Varma, a former Rajya Sabha MP, tweeted: “I urge Shri Nitish Kumar to reconsider support to the #CAB in the Rajya Sabha. The Bill is unconstitutional, discriminatory, and against the unity and harmony of the country, apart from being against the secular principles of the JDU. Gandhiji would have strongly disapproved it.”
On Monday night, Kishor had tweeted: “Disappointed to see JDU supporting #CAB that discriminates right of citizenship on the basis of religion. It’s incongruous with the party’s constitution that carries the word secular thrice on the very first page and the leadership that is supposedly guided by Gandhian ideals.”
The JD(U)’s official spokesperson, however, refrained from taking a position on these remarks. “Whatever our MP Rajiv Ranjan Singh said in the Lok Sabha is our official stand,” said Neeraj Kumar. Singh had echoed Union Home Minister Amit Shah’s remarks that CAB would pose “no threat to minorities in India”.