BJD won’t support NRC, says Naveen Patnaik; provokes a comeback from BJP
Odisha chief minister Naveen Patnaik, whose party had supported changes to the citizenship law in parliament, on Wednesday distanced the Biju Janata Dal from the National Register of Citizens, or NRC, that is next on top of the agenda of the BJP-led national coalition. Patnaik, who is headed to national capital Delhi on a four-day visit, asserted that his party had already made it clear that it would not support the Centre on its citizens’ register plan.
Patnaik also issued an appeal to groups in Odisha opposed to the new citizenship law to back down since the law did not impact Indian Muslims.
The chief minister’s appeal for calm and the effort to distance itself from the nation-wide citizens’ list is seen as an attempt to cut its losses in the state and message its stance on the NRC to the BJP-led national coalition.
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The BJD’s support to the Citizenship Amendment Act that eases the norms to grant citizenship to religious minorities from Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh had triggered howls of protest from minority organisations in Odisha and exposed the BJD to charges from rivals that the regional party had “shed its secular image”.
“The Biju Janata Dal MPs both in the Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha have made it clear that we do not support the NRC. CAA has nothing to do with Indian citizens, it only deals with foreigners. BJD MPs in Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha have made it clear that we do not support NRC. I would appeal to our citizens to let peace prevail. CAA has nothing to do with Indian citizens,” said Patnaik at his residence-Naveen Niwas before leaving for Delhi to attend the second meeting of the Committee for Commemoration of 150th Birth Anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi at the Rashtrapati Bhawan.
Patnaik, speaking against the backdrop of violence in states such as Delhi, West Bengal and Assam, also appealed to citizens to maintain peace and refrain from rumour-mongering.
So far, a national register of citizens has only been done for Assam that has left out 1.9 million people.
Union home minister Amit Shah has, however, declared on more than one occasion that his government would work on the citizens’ register and expel the “infiltrators”. At an election rally in Jharkhand early this month, Amit Shah also set a 2024 deadline for his government to throw out the “infiltrators”, a reference to Muslims from Bangladesh.
But there have been concerns around the government’s NRC project including the fate of millions who would not be able to produce documents to clear the complicated citizenship test. Opposition parties say the new citizenship law did not only violate the constitutional guarantee of equality but would, in conjunction with the NRC, be a lethal formulation to target minorities.
It is a worry that was articulated by a muslim delegation led by Abdul Bari of Bhadrak’s Chauda Mahala Muslim Jamaat too that met Naveen Patnaik on December 13. “There is speculation that detention camps will be set up and those who cannot prove their citizenship will be kept in these camps. How can a poor without any documents and property prove their citizenship,” Bari said later.
On Tuesday, hundreds of Muslims holding black ribbons marched from a mosque in Bhubaneswar to a busy square demanding revocation of the Act. The protesters led by Sayad Naquibul Amin Barki of Jamiat-Ulama-i-Odisha also submitted a memorandum to Patnaik to press their demand.
Biju Janata Dal MP Bhartruhari Mahtab said the protests against citizenship law were engineered by Congress and the communists to secure their vote-bank. “Muslims in Odisha should have no concerns over Citizenship Amendment Act,” he said.
Naveen Patnaik’s assurance on opposing the National Register of Citizens, however, has not gone down well with senior BJP leader and Leader of Opposition Pradipta Kumar Naik.
Naik said he was thankful to the BJD for supporting the citizenship law in Parliament but the fact was that the state government didn’t have the power to decide on the NRC.
“At the same time citizenship under NRC can only be decided by the union government, not States. It’s not the responsibility of Odisha. Just because some people oppose the Citizenship Amendment Act, the chief minister should not adopt double standards,” said Naik.
Meanwhile, there is much jubilation among 1,500-odd people in Kendrapara district who in 2005 were served notices by Naveen Patnaik government under the provisions of the Citizenship Act and Foreigners Act over accusations of being illegal settlers from Bangladesh.
These 1,551 Hindus staying in coastal Kendrapara district were served a notice to leave the country following a survey by the Odisha government in 2004 under direction from the Ministry of Home Affairs. However, no follow up action on the notices was taken as the Manmohan Singh government put it on hold. The citizenship law ends the uncertainty around their stay in the country.