Congress CMs call for an environment free of fear at HTLS
Baghel, who led the Congress’s December 2018 comeback in Chhattisgarh after it lost three consecutive state assembly elections in the state, said that he is opposed to the NRC, and the exercise does not apply to his state.Updated: Dec 08, 2019 05:30 IST
Punjab chief minister Amarinder Singh and his Chhattisgarh counterpart, Bhupesh Baghel, both from the Congress, on Saturday opposed a pan-India National Register of Citizens (NRC) that the government has proposed to identify and deport illegal immigrants.
In a freewheeling session at the 17th Hindustan Times Leadership Summit, Singh and Baghel also spoke on a range of other issues, including the Citizenship Amendment Bill (CAB) that aims to fast-track Indian citizenship for religious minorities from Muslim-majority Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan, and the difficulties their governments confronted because of delays in compensation for a revenue shortfall from the Goods and Services Tax (GST).
Baghel, who led the Congress’s December 2018 comeback in Chhattisgarh after it lost three consecutive state assembly elections in the state, said that he is opposed to the NRC, and the exercise does not apply to his state.
Union home minister Amit Shah said in the Rajya Sabha in November that the NRC will be created for all regions in India, expanding an exercise that was recently carried out in Assam and led to the identification of 1.9 million people who face the risk of being labelled illegal immigrants.
“The NRC is a problem of border states, not of all states. This is being raised to deflect attention from main issues that the people are facing,” Baghel said.
Singh, who led the Congress to an election victory in Punjab in the 2017 assembly elections, and ensured that the national party won eight of the 13 seats in the state during the Lok Sabha elections this year, said he found the whole issue “strange” and that no one could ask any person to leave the country through such a unilateral decision.
“You have army men who have served the country for years, and then suddenly you say they are not Indians. You cannot just ask people to leave the country and take such a unilateral decision. I’m strongly opposed to this,” he said.
In the final NRC in Assam published on August 31, some members of the armed forces were among those excluded from the list.
While some states with Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led governments, including Uttarakhand and Uttar Pradesh, have said that they would allow the creation of an NRC, Singh said that in Punjab, where his party has a two-thirds majority, the exercise will not take place.
Remarking on the CAB, which the Union cabinet cleared last week for tabling in the Parliament, Singh said, “There are many people of our state who are living or have been born abroad, and if they wish to come home, they are welcome. This is a free country. Why are we asking people [who have lived here] to leave? What if Bangladesh says that they don’t want them? What will you do?”
Baghel said that there was an atmosphere of fear among sections of the people, which needs to be removed.
“There is no space for fear in Indian tradition. All sections are feeling insecure. Reporters, doctors, industrialists — which section is not afraid? I am afraid to speak out. We are told, don’t talk against the government. This atmosphere of fear has to end. The media should be free to report, industrialists should be independent... When the Anna Hazare agitation against corruption broke out, every television channel reported on it live. If such an agitation were to happen today, would channels report on it?,” he asked.
Both chief ministers reacted to Union finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman’s comments at the HT Summit earlier on Saturday on the delay in compensating states for their revenue shortfall from the GST. She attributed this to a shortfall in the collection of cess charged to fund the compensation payment.
According to Singh, the finance minister did not understand what states were facing. “Our sources of revenue have been passed on to the GST, so it is the responsibility of the finance ministry [to pay us]. I have not received GST [compensation] since August, and I have had to borrow money to pay salaries. How can states function this way?”
Baghel said that in Chhattisgarh, which is more of an industry-heavy producer state, it is vital that money goes into the pockets of locals for it to reach the market and boost consumption. However, certain central policies were preventing that from happening, he added.
“In June 2014, the central government came out with a policy that if you give bonus to farmers then we won’t buy rice from you. We are not even asking for money [from the Centre], we only want permission to pay our farmers a bonus. When the money goes into the pocket of a consumer, it comes to the market. If they do not understand this aspect of economics, they should learn from [former Prime Minister] Manmohan Singh. We have also learnt from Manmohan Singh,” he said.
The Congress had, in its election manifesto in Chhattisgarh, promised to give a bonus to farmers for paddy procurement.
A clause in the Memorandum of Understanding signed by Chhattisgarh and the central government says that if the state government declares the bonus over and above the Minimum Support Price fixed by the Centre, the latter would limit the procurement for central pool to the extent of the requirement of rice for Targeted Public Distribution System/Other Welfare Scheme allocations of that state.
The Centre informed Chhattisgarh in November that the central pool stock was already much above buffer norms.
Sitharaman had said at the HT Summit that the Centre was committed to paying states the 14% compensation. “We will honour compact, there is no question about it,” she said.
The chief ministers’ comments come at a time when India’s economy grew at 4.5% July-September quarter, the slowest pace since March 2013.
Singh also spoke of Delhi’s pollution levels and said that Punjab could not be blamed for high levels of particulate matter in the air, as there was no stubble burning taking place at the moment.
While the Air Quality Index in the city was in the “very poor” category on Saturday, farmers of Punjab have in the past been blamed because of their practice of stubble burning to clear their field for the next crop cycle. This has often been attributed as a cause for spiked levels of pollution in the National Capital Region, which faced several days last month when the AQI was in the “severe” category. “When I left Punjab, there were clear blue skies.. but in Delhi, the visibility was only 400m. Where is this smoke coming from?” Singh asked.
When asked about who the next Congress president would likely be, Singh demurred from naming anyone, though the senior party leader has spoken out before in favour of giving young leaders a chance to lead the party. He said that the decision was the Congress Working Committee’s to make. Baghel, however, had no qualms in stating that he believed that Rahul Gandhi should be the next president.
Gandhi resigned from the post following the party’s rout in the Lok Sabha polls, in which it won 52 seats out 542, and Sonia Gandhi became the interim president, after weeks of the party being without a chief.
“He [Rahul Gandhi] is not afraid to speak his mind, and he also took responsibility for the party’s performance,” Baghel said.