Analysis: Congress still unsure of its stand on Citizenship Amendment Bill

Activists of All Assam Students Union (AASU) raise slogans during a demonstration against the government's Citizenship Amendment Bill, in Guwahati on November 4, 2019.

Activists of All Assam Students Union (AASU) raise slogans during a demonstration against the government's Citizenship Amendment Bill, in Guwahati on November 4, 2019.   | Photo Credit: AFP

Sources say six-member committee found that all northeastern States, barring Assam, are against the CAB

After the fiasco on Article 370, over which the Congress found itself completely unprepared, and conflicting stands within the party on the issue added to the mess, the party has made a special effort to ensure that it has a comprehensive view on the Citizenship Amendment Bill (CAB) that’s likely to come up in the current session of the Parliament.

It sent out a six-member committee, headed by party general secretary Mukul Wasnik, and which included Jairam Ramesh, to tour the northeastern States, talk to the party’s cadre there, and then to submit a report on the two issues. The committee went on a tour of five cities between November 5 and 15.

However, even after the exercise, the party is yet to come up with a concrete plan.

Four amendments

According to sources, the report submitted by the committee said that all the northeastern States, barring Assam, are against the CAB. The Assam unit also wants amendment to the 2018 version of the legislation. It has recommended four amendments to the Bill.

First, that persons with names in the election roll as updated in 2014 should be deemed as citizens of India. This recommendation was also made by former Congress MP Sushmita Dev as a member of the select committee constituted to review the Citizenship Amendment Bill 2018 in the previous Lok Sabha. In fact, all the four Congress members — Adhir Ranjan Chaudhary, Sushmita Dev, Pradeep Bhattacharya and Bhubaneshwar Kalita (who shifted to the Bharatiya Janata Party) — who were part of the committee submitted dissent notes.

Secondly, the State unit wants the period of residence to be reduced to six months from six years. Third, any person who has applied for citizenship under the CAB should be considered as a deemed citizen. And fourth, that no person should be asked to produce paperwork from the Bangladesh government; instead, an affidavit to the State that he/she had come from Bangladesh should suffice.

Conflicting views

Apart from the CAB, the party also has to wrestle with the National Register for Citizens, which the Home Minister repeatedly has said will be undertaken across India. The party is in principle against the exercise. The arguments that it has so far come up with is that the NRC exercise is superfluous and flawed. The Home Ministry conducts a census, which also prepares a population register at the turn of every decade. The party, sources said, is likely to point out the technical flaws in the NRC.

Within the party, too, there are many views on the subject. For example, the Tripura unit of the party continues to be divided on the issue of NRC. The Tripura Pradesh Congress Party President Pradyot Deb Barman had walked out of the party on the issue. He is supporting the NRC in the State where illegal Bangladeshi migrants are a big political problem. “There is a section of the party who are still sympathetic to Deb Barman’s stand. They want the party to make an exception for Tripura,” a top leader said.

Not crystallised

On Saturday, Congress President Sonia Gandhi, after meeting with the committee, asked Rajya Sabha Deputy Opposition Leader Anand Sharma, Rajya Sabha Member Jairam Ramesh and Lok Sabha leader Manish Tewari to come up with a response.

So far, according to sources, the group has not crystallised the Congress’s stand on the issue. “We need to see the new Bill that the government is bringing. Only then can we formulate our position. The Citizenship Amendment Bill will benefit the Hindus in Assam, West Bengal and northeastern States. So, if we oppose it all guns blazing, we will be seen at odds with a huge group of voters. We have to set our line on the issue and this can be done only when we listen to all the stakeholders,” a person aware of the consultations said.

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Printable version | Feb 20, 2020 6:49:36 AM |

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