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Sunday, Dec 08, 2019

Stage is set for Parliament showdown over citizenship

As of now, the Congress, Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK), Left parties, Telugu Desam Party and Delhi’s ruling Aam Admi Party (AAP) are committed to opposing the bill, which seeks to fast-track the grant of Indian citizenship to religious minorities from the Muslim-majority nations of Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan.

india Updated: Dec 05, 2019 08:12 IST
HT Correspondent
HT Correspondent
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
Congress MP from northeast and Naga People's Front MPs protest against the Citizenship Amendment Bill at Parliament during the ongoing Winter Session, in New Delhi.
Congress MP from northeast and Naga People's Front MPs protest against the Citizenship Amendment Bill at Parliament during the ongoing Winter Session, in New Delhi. (PTI)
         

As the countdown for the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, or CAB, begins in the two Houses of Parliament, the Congress-led Opposition has started reaching out to possible supporters to resist the proposed legislation, but is wary that many fence-sitters may ultimately side with the government.

As of now, the Congress, Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK), Left parties, Telugu Desam Party and Delhi’s ruling Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) are committed to opposing the bill, which seeks to fast-track the grant of Indian citizenship to religious minorities from the Muslim-majority nations of Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan.

But many fence-sitters and even parties otherwise critical of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led government haven’t firmed up their stance, leaving the Congress guessing about what position they would ultimately take. The BJP-led National Democratic Alliance has an absolutely majority in the Lower house. The Opposition, which is stronger in the Rajya Sabha, hopes to stall the bill in the Upper house.

A senior Congress strategist said the party would try and get the Bill sent to a select committee for scrutiny even as government managers have indicated during informal interactions that they want the Bill to be passed in the ongoing session.

Trinamool Congress’s Rajya Sabha floor leader Derek O’Brien refused to spell out the party’s stand on the CAB “...From what we know, the BJP is bringing the bill for cheap, narrow gains. We will spell out our stand on the floor of the House.”

TMC has 13 members in the current 238-member Upper house. The Biju Janata Dal, which has seven MPs in the Upper House, is also undecided. “Only after the bill comes to the House will our leader Naveen Patnaik take a call,” said Amar Patnaik, senior party leader in the Rajya Sabha.

The senior Congress strategist added that Samajwadi Party has indicated it would oppose the bill and Telangana Rashtra Samithi signalled its intent to join the Opposition. “The response of the TRS is the best news for us. At the same time, we don’t know what Mayawati’s BSP {Bahujan Samaj Party} would do,” said the Congress strategist in the RS.

 

In the last session, the BJP exploited fissures within the Opposition ranks and managed to clear two landmark bills and the resolution to scrap Article 370. The Triple Talaq bill and the one to bifurcate J&K state was cleared as the Opposition bench was divided.

The Congress has so far maintained that it is opposed to CAB on the basis of religion. But the party on Wednesday said it will formulate its stand on the bill after going through the draft. “We will have to see in what form, manner the bill is brought, then we will decide on our stand...,” Congress leader in the Lok Sabha Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury said.

Publishing a “dissent note” on the CAB, Communist Party of India (Marxist) general secretary Sitaram Yechury said, “The Citizenship Amendment Bill has reportedly been cleared by the Cabinet. But it must be withdrawn as it isn’t a mere change in the statute. If passed, it will fundamentally alter the character of the Indian Republic.”