Sena backtracks day after voting for citizenship billUpdated: Dec 11, 2019 00:05 IST
In the first test for the Maharashta Vikas Aghadi (MVA) government — a coalition of Shiv Sena, Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) and Congress — chief minister Uddhav Thackeray took a U-turn on the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill (CAB) on Tuesday, a day after the Sena voted in favour of it in the Lok Sabha.
The Sena’s decision to vote in favour of CAB kicked up a controversy in the newly-formed MVA, evoking reactions from its allies, especially the Congress.
Thackeray on Tuesday said his party will not back the bill in the Rajya Sabha on Wednesday unless the Centre clarifies questions raised by the party. “We voted yesterday [Monday] to absorb various people facing brutalities in other countries, but we have asked many questions. If these queries are not answered, we won’t be supporting CAB in the Rajya Sabha. Every party supporting or opposing it is asking for clarity in national interest,” the CM said, adding that Sena MPs will stand against the bill when it is introduced in the Upper House.
CAB, which provides Indian citizenship to non-Muslim refugees from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan, was passed in the Lok Sabha a little past midnight on Tuesday, after a heated debate that lasted more than seven hours.
On Monday, during the debate, Sena MPs had raised queries, such as why Sri Lanka was not included along with Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan. It also suggested that those given citizenship under the bill should not get voting rights for 25 years.
BJP leader and former chief minister Devendra Fadnavis remarked that the Sena should not have changed its stance on the bill owing to pressure from the Congress. “In the Parliament yesterday, the Home Minister made it clear that the bill is for our nation and not for any community,” Fadnavis said.
“Sena also backed the bill. Their stance in the Rajya Sabha, however, is not clear. This raises question as to whether their stance has changed to save the government due to pressure from Congress. I hope Sena will stick to its old stance on CAB and NRC and not succumb to pressure.”
Earlier in the day, former Congress president Rahul Gandhi tweeted that the bill is an attack on the Indian Constitution. “Anyone who supports it is attacking and attempting to destroy the foundation of our nation,” he tweeted.
Subsequently, Thackeray said queries raised by his party were not answered by Union Home Minister Amit Shah during the debate in the Lok Sabha on Monday. “The Centre has not clarified who will bear the burden of the people who get Indian citizenship. What is the guarantee that genuine people will come?,” Thackeray said.
He also attacked former ally, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), and said that the ruling party in New Delhi is not the only one concerned about the well-being of the country.
Interestingly, the preamble of the common minimum programme (CMP) of the Maharashtra Vikas Aghadi (coalition of Shiv Sena, NCP and Congress) government stated that “on the contentious issues of national as well as state importance, especially having repercussions/consequences on the secular fabric of the nation, the Sena, NCP, and Congress will take a joint view after holding consultations and arriving at a consensus.” However, the three parties did not have any discussion on the bill.
Senior Sena leaders said the leadership decided to back the bill because these “ideas” were floated by late Bal Thackeray, the Sena founder. They added that national issues and the state’s common minimum programme are separate.
The Sena’s decision to back BJP could impact its brand new alliance with secular parties — the Congress and the NCP — in Maharashtra. Political analysts pointed out that Monday’s decision was the first sign of problems for the alliance.
Former state minister and Congress leaders Arif Naseem Khan said, “By supporting the bill, the Sena has not only violated the common minimum programme drafted by the MVA, but has also indirectly supported the BJP. The Sena should come clear on its stance on the entire issue.”
“We have sided with the bill in the Lok Sabha as these ideas were propagated by Balasaheb [Thackeray]. He believed that the word ‘Hindustan’ was not coined by a political party. The idea of ‘Hindustan’ is that whoever is born on this land, irrespective of the religion, caste, creed, etc. must respect this land and he is called a Hindu,” said Anil Desai, Rajya Sabha MP.
Congress’s Rajya Sabha MP Husain Dalwai questioned Sena’s decision to back the bill. He, however, does not think the workings of the Maharashtra government would be impacted due to this. “I do not know why they supported the bill. They should have abstained from voting; at least we expected that. Sanjay Raut had told me that they would raise issues or abstain during the voting, but why they supported is unclear. Maybe there was pressure from the BJP,” Dalwai said.
Maharashtra Congress spokesperson Sachin Sawant said, “Every party has a right to take its stance. Though, we defer from their view, in parliamentary democracy, they can choose to take a different view. However, we expect the Sena to adhere to the values of the Common Minimum Programme.”
Meanwhile, in a veiled jibe at the BJP, Thackeray said, “There is an atmosphere being created in the country that voting for whatever [bills that] the ruling party brings in the Lok Sabha is nationalism and opposing it is anti-national. Firstly, everyone should come out of that illusion.”
“We have not got answers to the questions that we raised in the Lok Sabha yesterday. We want answers to each question… There should be clarity on the bill; the people should know about it,” he said. He added that every state should get clarity on where would the people given citizenship under the bill resides, what is their “background”, who would take their “responsibility”.
Thackeray reiterated that the “issues faced by common man”, such as rising onion prices and unemployment should be looked into by the Central government first. He said, “Nobody needs to tell the Sena what to do. We are not the kind who follow or unfollow people blindly. The country is still reeling under the effects of demonetisation.”
Surendra Jondhale, a political analyst, said, “These are the first signs of a problematic relationship of the three parties [Sena, Cong and NCP]. Being coalition partners, there cannot be conflicting views,” he said, adding that the Sena leadership had “poor understanding” of the bill and that there could be “larger repercussions” at a later stage.