The Congress and 19 other opposition parties on Monday met in the national capital and sought to strike a balance between supporting the anti-Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) protests and asking the Narendra Modi government tough questions about the “economic crisis” facing the country.
In a resolution passed at the meeting, the Opposition asked the Centre to withdraw the CAA. The resolution also asked all non-Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) governments to not implement the National Population Register (NPR) in their respective states.
Some of the key opposition parties — the Samajwadi Party, Bahujan Samaj Party, Shiv Sena, Trinamool Congress, DMK, and Aam Aadmi Party — skipped the meeting. The DMK did not attend because of its disagreements with the local unit of the Congress in Tamil Nadu, while the AAP was not invited. CPI(M) leader Sitaram Yechury said nearly all parties who did not attend supported the struggle to protect the Constitution, and do not want NPR to be implemented. “This is not a meeting to discuss some electoral alliance, but to fight to protect our Constitution,” he said.
Congress leader Rahul Gandhi wanted the meeting to focus on the Modi government's failures on the economy, but the Left and some of the other parties said the Opposition should continue to stand with those fighting for their constitutional rights. Later, Gandhi challenged the PM to explain the state of the economy to the protesting students and said India was on the road to become an economic “basket case”.
Opposition sources agreed that constitutionally the states would need to follow the Centre’s notification to carry out the Census and NPR in their respective states. They said they would dare the Centre to dismiss all these state governments, or it should amend the “discriminatory" CAA. Nearly a dozen state governments or their chief ministers have expressed reservation at carrying out the NPR. Opposition sources pointed out that state government employees would be collecting the Census and NPR data. The Budget session of Parliament is set to see a faceoff between the government and the opposition on the issue.
Govt hits back
The BJP said the opposition unity stood exposed as key parties skipped the meeting. Union minister Ravi Shankar Prasad said the Opposition’s resolution against the CAA must have made Pakistan happy, stating that the law was a chance to expose Islamabad’s “barbaric treatment” of minorities. “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,” Prasad said.
In a related development, the BJP-ruled Uttar Pradesh government has started the process to identify refugees for the implementation of the CAA, said UP minister Shrikant Sharma. He said all district magistrates in UP had been asked to collect data. In the first list, over 32,000 refugees have been identified in 21 of the 75 districts and the exercise was going on in the entire state, Sharma said. Most such refugees are in the Pilibhit district.
Parl panel questions police action
In another development, the parliamentary standing committee on home affairs at its meeting on Monday questioned Delhi Police officials over the use of force against protesting students and suggested that it should have dealt with the students in a mature manner.
Jamia Millia Islamia Vice-Chancellor Najma Akhtar on Monday said the varsity administration would explore the possibility of moving court for registration of an FIR against the “police brutality” on campus last month after hundreds of angry students gheraoed her office demanding action against the police.
Nationwide NRC needless: Nitish
In Patna, Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar said a country-wide implementation of National Register of Citizens (NRC) was “needless and had “no justification”. Speaking in the state Assembly, Kumar said his government agreed in principle to carry out the NPR as they did likewise when such an exercise was last conducted in 2010. He said his government was ready to have a discussion in the House with regard to “extra details” being sought as part of the 2020 NPR. In its resolution, the Opposition expressed “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”.
It said the economic crisis had pushed the economy to the verge of a recession, there is joblessness and increasing prices of petroleum products, cooking gas, vegetables and all essential commodities. “Modi government has created an economic disaster,” it said. The Opposition said the Modi government has failed to address these issues and has instead embarked on a dangerous course of sharpening communal polarisation and attacking democratic rights and Constitutional guarantees of the people. The resolution spoke of the crisis in Kashmir.
It said 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.”
The Opposition asked the people to express solidarity with those fighting to protect the Constitution on January 23, the birth anniversary of freedom fighter Subhash Chandra Bose, and read the Preamble on the Republic Day on January 26, and observe January 30, the martyrdom day of Mahatma Gandhi.