New Delhi: The Congress, the Aam Aadmi Party and the Bahujan Samaj Party declared their opposition to the contentious Citizenship Amendment Bill Thursday, while most other opposition parties remained non-committal on the proposed legislation that seeks to make non-Muslim illegal migrants from Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh eligible for Indian nationality. The bill is likely to be tabled in Parliament next week.
“To anybody who discriminates against anybody in this country we are against them… That is our line. We believe in an India that belongs to everybody — all communities, all religions, all cultures,” former Congress president Rahul Gandhi told reporters in Kerala’s Kozhikode.
BSP chief Mayawati said her party “is against the current form of Citizenship Amendment Bill” and suggested that it be sent to a parliamentary committee.
Congress MP Rajeev Gowda too criticised the bill and said his party was opposed to it. “It is unconstitutional and militates against what freedom fighters stood for,” he told ThePrint.
The AAP’s Rajya Sabha MP, Sanjay Singh, told ThePrint that the BJP just wants to “get rid” of people from UP and Bihar and as such, have proposed to implement NRC across the country.
“They are doing this drama to suppress the failure that was NRC,” he said.
Singh said he couldn’t comment on whether the bill targets a particular religion until the draft legislation becomes available.
ThePrint reached each of the 31 political parties and 10 individual members — four nominated and six Independents — in the Rajya Sabha to get a sense of what could happen on the floor of the House during voting.
BJP banks on “undecided” parties
The Narendra Modi government is expected to table the bill in Parliament next week and is certain of a smooth passage in the Lok Sabha due to its majority there.
However, it doesn’t have the requisite numbers in Rajya Sabha and is hoping to get a push from allies like the AIADMK and the Akali Dal, among others.
The NDA has 107 MPs while the majority mark is 120 in the Rajya Sabha that currently has 238 members. The BJP is also banking on abstention by many parties from the opposition camp to secure a majority.
The BJP’s former ally Shiv Sena (3), YSR Congress Party (2) and Republican Party of India (1) have already committed their support to the bill. The BJP is also expecting fence-sitters like TDP, TRS and BJD to vote in favour due to “national interest”, a party leader told ThePrint.
Assam’s AGP (1) too has indicated its support for the bill, months after it broke off its alliance with BJP on the same issue.
The DMK (11), CPI(M) (5) and the BSP (4) have categorically stated their opposition to the bill, while others such as the PDP and the CPI are also likely to take the same line.
The BPF, SDF, PMK, MDMK, NPF, RJD and IUML (all with an MP each), six Independent candidates and four nominated candidates were not available for comments. The BJP’s ally LJP didn’t respond until the time of publishing this report.
The bill proposes to make illegal migrants of six communities — Hindus, Christians, Sikhs, Parsis, Jains and Buddhists — from Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh eligible for Indian citizenship. However, it leaves out the Muslim community. It is said to be a precursor to the Modi government’s plans to implement the National Register of Citizens (NRC) across the country.
The Lok Sabha had passed the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill in January but it lapsed after the dissolution of the House.
Undecided, but to abstain?
Most other opposition parties, however, haven’t spelt out their stance on the bill yet. Many parties that strongly opposed the bill earlier — including the Trinamool Congress with 13 MPs and Nitish Kumar’s JD(U) with six — are yet to take a call yet. Others such as the AIADMK (11), BJD (7), TRS (6), NCP (4) and TDP (2) are also said to be in a dilemma, party leaders told ThePrint.
West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee has been a staunch critic of the NRC and has continuously pushed against the exercise. Her Trinamool Congress has also vehemently opposed the Citizenship Amendment Bill. However, as the Parliament test comes up, sources said the issue is still being debated within the party. Keeping the electoral benefits in mind, the party could stage a walkout in the Rajya Sabha and abstain from voting, added the sources.
Facing stiff competition from the BJP ahead of municipal elections next year and assembly elections in 2021, the Trinamool is treading cautiously — West Bengal has a 27 per cent Muslim population according to the 2011 Census of India.
With its six MPs in the Rajya Sabha, BJP’s Bihar ally JD(U) is yet to take a decision in the matter. The party had opposed the bill when it was tabled earlier in the year.
Speaking to ThePrint, senior leader K.C. Tyagi said that since Home Minister Amit Shah has promised to make a few changes, the party will consult with its regional units and then take a call.
“We are expecting a few changes and will hold a meeting with our state units in Arunachal, Nagaland, etc before taking a final call,” said Tyagi.
However, sources said the JD(U) is likely to abstain from voting to help in the smooth passage of the bill.
In July, the BJP managed to get the Triple Talaq Bill passed in the Rajya Sabha when the JD(U) and AIADMK staged a walkout, lowering the majority mark in the House. The NDA managed to get the support of 99 MPs, with 84 opposing it.
The AIADMK will hold consultations with the high command before they decide, party MP K. Selvaraj told ThePrint.
With nine MPs, the Samajwadi Party too is yet to finalise its decision.
While the Congress, which has 46 MPs in the Rajya Sabha, has thrown its full weight behind opposing the bill as it targets minorities, its ally NCP is yet to take a call.
“We haven’t taken any decision yet,” party leader D.P. Tripathi told ThePrint.
However, NCP’s Rajya Sabha MP Majeed Menon had told ThePrint Wednesday that it would consult with the Congress and take a decision accordingly.
‘With the Congress’
While some of the opposition parties mentioned above don’t know their final position yet, others like the DMK (5) and CPI(M) (5) are certain they will oppose the Bill.
“We will be opposing the Bill,” DMK MP T.K.S. Elangovan said. “We will take a stand with the Congress party.”
Elangovan, however, added that he thinks the BJP would be able to sway the vote in its favour and get the bill through.
CPI(M) MP K. Somaprasad said the bill “prosecutes minorities”.
“We will be opposing the bill. The bill has taken a communal colour with the BJP targeting specific groups and not looking at the merit of the case,” he said.
The lone JD(S) MP K. Reddy also said his party will back the Congress. “We will go with the Congress and oppose the bill.”
The IUML, which opposed the Bill in Lok Sabha, is also unlikely to deviate from its stand.
Opposition after the Lok Sabha elections
When the Citizenship Amendment Bill was tabled and passed in Lok Sabha earlier this year, a number of parties had opposed it.
Protests were carried out in many parts of Assam and the state even observed a “Black Day” after the bill was tabled. The AGP even ended its alliance with the BJP over the Bill.
Apart from the Congress, MPs from the AIUDF and Trinamool Congress had also protested against the bill.
However, after the BJP came back with a thumping majority in the Lok Sabha, many parties have been doing a rethink about their political strategies.
Now, with a fresh test coming up for opposition in the form of Citizenship Amendment Bill, all eyes will be on the MPs in Rajya Sabha.