Friday, 2 December, 2022
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Citizenship law protests: Is the opposition’s political response limited to court appeals?

Opposition leaders such as Congress’ Jairam Ramesh, TMC’s Mahua Moitra and AIMIM’s Asaduddin Owaisi were the first to file petitions challenging the constitutionality of the amended Citizenship Act.

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Opposition leaders such as Congress’ Jairam Ramesh, TMC’s Mahua Moitra and AIMIM’s Asaduddin Owaisi were the first to file petitions challenging the constitutionality of the amended Citizenship Act. Important issues like the dilution of Article 370, NRC and the Rafale deal were also taken to the Supreme Court. Instead of exhausting all the means of political agitation, India’s opposition is increasingly relying on the Supreme Court as the first door to knock on.

ThePrint asks: Citizenship law protests: Is the opposition’s political response limited to court appeals?

On social media, Congress is blamed for not being out on street; but the media doesn’t cover our street protests

Pawan Khera
National Spokesperson, Indian National Congress 

The Narendra Modi government has a unique and devious ability to spring up divisive issues one after the other, the latest being the Citizenship Amendment Act. The objectives are several. TV keeps Indians busy talking about the issue, fault lines that had been ignored by aspirational India get sharpened, people become divided along communal lines, and Narendra Modi and Amit Shah can smile and distract citizens away from their failures on the economic front.

When we, as the main opposition party, show our strong presence on social media, we are blamed by media and social media warriors for not being ‘out there on the street’; when we are out there protesting, getting lathi-charged or tear-gassed, the media is pressured into not covering our protests. When we raise issues of defence procurement or privatisation of Maharatna public sector undertakings, we are accused of resorting to hit-and-run politics, for not taking the matter to its logical conclusion in the court.

In a healthy democracy, avenues of dissent available to the opposition parties and civil society include media, street protests, and legal recourse. It’s important to use each and every recourse to be able to articulate the angst of the people.

Legal recourse takes it to another level, where one can secure relief from draconian decisions of an insensitive government.

Liberal friends must make up their minds on how exactly an opposition party should conduct itself. The Congress will continue to use every platform available to protect citizens from a government that threatens their dignified existence.

Litigation runs the risk of becoming an exercise in political posturing

Alok Prasanna Kumar
Senior resident fellow, Vidhi Centre for Legal Policy 

Litigations in courts are usually undertaken after serious deliberation and careful planning. This involves being clear that the court is the best or usually the last resort to get what the parties want. When individuals approach the court, they do so after calculating what’s in their best interests.

However, in the absence of a clear strategy, it’s hard to say what is really achieved in many “politically significant cases”. Agitations are sometimes held without any clear idea about the goals, and litigations are filed without any thought about the outcome. There’s a risk that litigation then becomes an exercise in political posturing, resulting in the courts losing focus on what is at stake.

While some political issues do turn into legal or constitutional matters, it’s not necessarily true in every case. In such ill thought out cases, courts are asked to undertake a wide-ranging and roving inquiry with no clear end in sight.

However, the courts themselves are to be blamed to some extent since they too have engaged in such exercises in PILs in the past.

In the absence of a coherent litigation strategy, politically sensitive cases may end up harming the interests of the very people they seek to protect.

If a bus is being burnt and stones are being pelted, how can a political party stand there in solidarity?

Dr. Ajoy Kumar
National Spokesperson, Aam Aadmi Party

The opposition’s stand has been that as long as demonstrations are peaceful, we will support it.

Sitting on a dharna is the more suitable way to go about it. The Citizenship Act protests should be within the confines of the law. The moment they go beyond the confines, the cause is then lost. There aren’t many options left other than court appeals.
If there is a law, one can only protest against it peacefully. The public can engage in candle marches, bandhs, hunger strikes and processions.

The amended Citizenship Act goes against the spirit of the Constitution. On the question of political parties and their lack of support during the protests, I think that if one holds a dharna at the Raj Ghat then everyone will show up for it. But if people engage in stone pelting and bus burning, then it removes the legitimacy and credibility for a political party to come and support it.

The Aam Aadmi Party supports the student agitation against the new citizenship law. We reject the NRC and the CAA because it is divisive. At the same time, this situation has to be handled within the rules of democratic engagement, it can’t go beyond that.

Protests are the outcome of a population that no longer trusts India’s political and legal institutions

Neelanjan Sircar
Senior visiting fellow, CPR & assistant professor, Ashoka University

India’s opposition has largely been a silent observer to the whirlwind of controversial laws and constitutional amendments recently — other than some notable exceptions in Asaduddin Owaisi and members of the Trinamool Congress. This silence is a by-product of the political and electoral dominance of the BJP at the national level.

While we would all like to see the opposition do more than throw legal challenges, its credibility is quite weak among Indians at the moment. The explosion of protests we see around the country today is the natural outcome of a population that no longer trusts or sees the country’s core political and legal institutions as legitimate.

When one sees that those who tore down the Babri Masjid are effectively rewarded by the Supreme Court, or that state government can be toppled by illicit funding, the average citizen comes to realise that legitimacy and bargaining power are given to those who act outside and in direct contravention of the law.

India’s institutions, including opposition parties, have largely lost their credibility. Why shouldn’t people be out on the streets protesting and fighting against the police? And why should these protesters integrate any political parties into the fold?

Students and activists are doing the heavy lifting in protesting BJP’s policies. Parties aren’t doing much agitational politics now

Kairvy Grewal
Journalist, ThePrint

Whether it is the dilution of Article 370, Aarey tree felling, Transgender Persons Act or the Citizenship Act, students and civil society activists have almost always done the heavy-lifting when it comes to protesting the BJP government’s contentious plans. In the past, opposition parties have started such mass movements, but now it seems like these parties have just given up in Modi and Amit Shah’s India. It is non-political actors who are taking the lead in mounting a challenge and speaking truth to power.

Agitational politics seems to be a thing of the past. The opposition finds it easier to skip right to the filing of petitions in the Supreme Court. This makes students’ protests paramount in today’s politics. Politicians have also taken over the momentum built by the students and tried to cash in on it. For instance, Priyanka Gandhi is protesting against the CAA and the violence against students at India Gate today.

We must not forget that in our current regime, a student is an easy target. So, the political parties must support them.

It is time that opposition parties opt out of their armchair activism on Twitter. A dissenting voice is always welcome on social media, but it has more impact on the streets.

Also read: Jamia students’ protest was peaceful, violence started ‘after local residents entered university’

By Kairvy Grewal, journalist at ThePrint 

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  1. 2019 election proved, the topics worth discussing about the Modi ghadi are way above the head of majority of the Indian electorates. They know religion, caste, violence and lazy BS. Other topics will have no traction in 2024 with this crowd.

  2. There is no contradiction. Social media is a powerful tool, as UPA II discovered to its cost. The early mover advantage has gone, all political parties are using it effectively to reach out to people with their message. 2. CAA suffers from grievous constitutional infirmities. It deserves to be judicially tested, with the finest legal minds making their case. 3. Political parties are validated on the street. When brave young Mumbaikars were protesting the midnight massacre of trees at Aarey, they deserved physical solidarity from politicians, not just a few tweets. 4. That applies with so much greater force to the brave protests by students of Jamia Millia and AMU. Some will say that is cynical fishing in troubled waters. Of course it is. When governments stumble, idle to expect the opposition not to seek political mileage. Don’t do it from the comfort of your home. Stand with the students, wait outside the police station, help out with legal procedures, including bail.

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