The Congress’ attempt to build Opposition unity around the Citizenship Amendment Act and the National Register of Citizens issues has hit a bump ahead of the crucial budget session of Parliament starting January 31 with several parties absenting from a recent strategy meet in Delhi.
The Congress, which has publicly demanded withdrawal of the controversial CAA and stoppage of the proposed NRC, has been trying to resurrect the party nationally riding on the widespread public anger against the Centre’s move. The meeting of opposition parties on January 13 in Delhi was aimed at broad basing the protests in an attempt to corner the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party.
But West Bengal chief minister and Trinamool Congress president Mamata Banerjee, DMK, Bahujan Samaj Party, Shiv Sena and Aam Aadmi Party skipped the strategy session convened by the Congress interim chief Sonia Gandhi indicating that all was not well in the Opposition camp.
While Mamata Banerjee, who has been waging a war against the CAA and the BJP, sees herself as the rallying point behind opposition unity, BSP supremo Mayawati clarified later that it was against the divisive move but did not want to be seen playing the Congress tune. Sena, which has of late become part of the Congress camp, said it wanted to wait till the Supreme Court had taken a view over the controversial CAA. The AAP which avoided the anti-CAA protests in Delhi too chose to stay away keeping in mind the assembly polls on February 8 though chief minister Arvind Kejriwal said there was no need for the law at present when everyone should focus on creating jobs.
The DMK, an old Congress ally, said it was miffed over party chief MK Stalin recently being blamed for not following the coalition dharma in the local body polls in Tamil Nadu. This means that taking along these party leaders during the budget session may not prove to be an easy task for the Congress managers though they seem determined to take on the BJP in Parliament. It also means that these regional parties would continues to provide resistance to the Congress plan’s of reviving itself in the states like UP, West Bengal and Delhi.
Congress insiders played down some parties missing Sonia’s strategy meet saying they were at least principally opposed to the BJP’s move. As a matter of some relief, opposition parties like NCP chief Sharad Pawar, LJD chief Sharad Yadav, CPI-M and CPI leaders Sitaram Yechury and D Raja respectively, attended the meet. The strategy session came after the all powerful Congress Working Committee last week debated and passed a unanimous resolution terming CAA-NRC as divisive and demanded its immediate withdrawal.
The Congress is aware that the CAA-NRC protests across states have been largely people driven with a large number of students speaking against the allegedly divisive move. While there was an opportunity to mobilise the young voters over the issue, the operational challenge before the Congress was to keep the issue alive in the future so that the party is able to pressure the BJP into taking it back.
Sensing opportunity to present itself as the only national alternative to the ruling BJP and to reaffirm its secular credentials before the electorate, the grand old party had staged protest marches across states on December 28, 2019 its 134 th foundation day. Led by party interim chief Sonia Gandhi in Delhi, senior Congress leaders read Preamble of the Constitution in states in public to highlight how the BJP was bent upon violating the basic principles of the sacred document which guides India’s parliamentary democracy by bringing in laws like the CAA and the proposed NRC, which was allegedly aimed at isolating the Muslims. Former Congress chief Rahul Gandhi used the occasion to address a huge rally in BJP-ruled Assam where the Supreme Court monitored NRC proved to be a disaster last year. Congress insiders averred the party was getting oxygen from the ongoing protests but it must avoid falling in the polarisation trap laid out by the ruling BJP which has been claiming that the purpose of the CAA was to give citizenship to the Hindus facing religious persecution in Muslim majority countries like Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh.
The BJP which appears to be pandering to its Hindutva constituency, has been constantly charging the opposition party was trying to instigate the minority community. Congress leader Priyanka Gandhi has been visiting the victims of the police action against the protesters in Uttar Pradesh in an attempt to revive the party in the politically crucial state.
As the battle lines have become sharper with both the BJP and the Congress digging in their heel over the issue, the opposition party had to field former minister of state for home in the UPA government Ajay Maken to defend the National Population Register introduced by it in 2010. The Congress explained how its population register was different from the Modi government’s NPR which was organically linked to the NRC. The anti-CAA-NRC battle is set to escalate in the coming weeks as several Opposition ruled states have passed resolutions in their respective assemblies against the divisive law and the Supreme Court is examining the constitutional validity of the controversial move.
The Opposition parties are also concerned that too much media attention over the CAA-NRC may take away focus from an equally important issue of a sliding economy for which the Modi government must be made accountable. “We the undersigned leaders of political parties express our grave concerns at the alarming deterioration in the livelihood status of the vast majority of our people due to the complete mismanagement of the Indian economy by the Modi government,” a resolution passed at the opposition meet read.
The Opposition leaders maintained that instead of addressing these issues and providing relief to the people the BJP 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 Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) was passed without any meaningful deliberations in the Parliament by the BJP exercising its electoral majority in a tyrannical fashion. The CAA, NPR and NRC is a package that is unconstitutional, which specifically targets the poor, the downtrodden, the SC/STs and the linguistic & 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,” said the opposition resolution.
The Opposition parties charged that deaths of peaceful protesters had occurred in BJP ruled states like Uttar Pradesh (21), Assam (5) and Karnataka (2) and slammed police brutalities in universities, institutes of higher learning and other research bodies across the country. Aiming to keep the protests going, the Opposition parties drafted a schedule under which joint marches will be held on January 23, the birth anniversary of freedom fighter Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose, January 26, the Republic Day and January 30, the martyrdom day of father of the nation Mahatma Gandhi. They urged the citizens to join hands with the opposition parties who were trying to uphold constitutional values from the BJP-led centre’s mis-governance.