In a strong pushback, the Kerala Assembly Tuesday passed a resolution demanding that the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), a legislation ratified by both Houses of Parliament and the President, be scrapped.
The resolution — the first such move by a state against the CAA — was moved by CPM leader and Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan, and seconded by Congress leader and Leader of Opposition Ramesh Chennithala. The CPM and Congress had earlier organised a joint protest against the law in the state.
Vijayan said the new law was “part of a larger agenda… against the Muslim community”. Chennithala said the state should stand united against the law.
The lone voice of dissent came from O Rajagopal, the only BJP MLA in the Assembly, who described the resolution as “unconstitutional”.
The Kerala move is significant given that at least seven states, including BJD-ruled Odisha and BJP ally JDU-led Bihar, have declared that they would not implement the Act.
Hours after the Kerala resolution was passed, Union Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad told reporters that Vijayan should “seek better legal advice”. “It is only the Parliament which has got the powers to pass any legislation with regard to citizenship, not any Assembly, including the Kerala Assembly,” Prasad said.
Later, BJP Rajya Sabha MP G V L Narsimha Rao filed a petition with Rajya Sabha Chairman M Venkaiah Naidu seeking to initiate contempt proceedings against Vijayan for stating “that the ‘unconstitutional Bill’ will have no place in Kerala and the state will not implement it”, and asking “people to oppose the CAA”.
Rao sought a discussion on this issue in the next meeting of the Committee of Privileges in Rajya Sabha, of which he is a member, on January 3.
Prasad, meanwhile, said the law is “binding on the entire country” and is “perfectly legal and constitutional”. “The CAA is not related to any Indian Muslim, much less to any Indian citizen. It is only related to six persecuted communities in Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh, who are being singled out due to their faith,’’ he said.
In the Kerala Assembly earlier, while presenting the resolution, Vijayan said any law that is being framed without considering the secularism of the country, and its religious and linguistic diversities, would have “far-reaching consequences”.
He said the country’s secular nature would be lost “if certain religious segments are curbed or certain other sections are given better considerations for citizenship”.
“If unity in diversity, a value which we have upheld, is lost, such a situation would lead to the collapse of the country… We should not forget that the values being put forward by the Constitution are essential for the existence of the country,’’ he said.
“We should realise that matters, including the Citizenship Amendment Act, are part of a larger agenda in the country. It is clear when we examine the (legislations) this government has implemented… the moves against the Muslim community… a law was brought that made triple talaq a criminal offence… when 13 Indian states have special laws, Article 370, which gave special status to Jammu and Kashmir, was lifted. Such an approach was adopted for a Muslim-majority state,’’ he said.
“When protests have been going on against the CAA, the same government gave Inner Line Permit powers to Tripura, Arunachal Pradesh and Manipur. People from other states have to get special permission if they have to go to these states. In short, this government has been pursuing a method, which gave powers to states with religious discrimination as a basis. Such policies have been evolved as part of an agenda. The BJP is not an ordinary political party. It is being led by the RSS,’’ Vijayan said.
“The agenda of the Sangh Parivar is to declare most citizens in the country as second-rate citizens. It is that agenda that has come to the fore in the citizenship issue. If that is not opposed, such agendas will emerge one after another in our society,’’ he said.
The Chief Minister said that in the past, when the issue of citizenship came up, there were no protests as the amendments were not part of any agenda. “The Citizenship Act came into being in 1955 after imbibing the themes put forward by the Constitution. There had been amendments to the Act later. But such amendments did not lean toward religious discrimination or infringe upon fundamental rights,’’ he said.
The Chief Minister reiterated that the people of Kerala “need not worry” about the Act, and that there was no plan to start detention centres in the state for lodging those stripped of citizenship.
In his address, Opposition leader Chennithala referred to the National Population Register (NPR). “The questionnaire in the national population registry is frightening. This is a way to the National Register of Citizens. It should be opposed strongly. Without the support of the state government, the Centre cannot go ahead with the census procedure. Hence, the state should withdraw from the Census,” he said.
BJP MLA Rajagopal said: “The resolution was moved in the Assembly with a narrow political interest. The Assembly has no power to challenge or oppose a legislation passed by the both Houses of the Parliament.”