The Kerala Assembly’s resolution calling upon the Centre to repeal the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, 2019, reflects the widespread unease and disquiet the legislation has caused. Rather than treat it as a controversy over the question whether a State Assembly is competent to question the law on a matter under the Union government’s domain, the Centre should reflect on the core issue: that the CAA may be in violation of the equality norm and secular principles enshrined in the Constitution. Given how deeply the country is divided on the changes in the law, Kerala’s example may set the stage for a wider confrontation between the Centre and States that have expressed their disinclination to give effect to the Centre’s policy in this regard. The resolution reflects a legitimate concern that in enacting the CAA, the Centre has written a patently discriminatory norm into the law. There is justified opposition across India on the amendment’s implications, especially in combination with the expected follow-up action in the form of establishing a citizenship register. Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan is among several CMs who have spoken out against the CAA’s discriminatory nature, but his has been the first regime to adopt a formal resolution for repeal. The Centre must make an effort to understand the underpinnings of the ongoing protests against its amendments, of which the Kerala resolution is surely a part.
Union Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad and Kerala Governor Arif Mohammad Khan have denounced the adoption of such a resolution, the former arguing that all States had a constitutional duty to implement central laws. However, the principal objection — that citizenship being a matter concerning the Union, it is not open to State Assemblies to give their opinion on it — is not valid. To the extent that a State government believes that a parliamentary law is not constitutional, it is entirely in order for the State legislature to call for its repeal. Further, a resolution is not legislation, and is not governed by the principle of legislative competence. It is only an expression of a political opinion. Tamil Nadu, for instance, has passed several resolutions concerning India’s foreign policy — such as asking for a war crimes probe against Sri Lanka and even a referendum on ‘Tamil Eelam’. There is a technical problem on the resolution’s admissibility. Kerala Assembly rules say matters pending before a court or those that do not concern the State should not be admitted in the form of a resolution. However, these are minor issues. Ultimately, the House Speaker decides on admitting a resolution, and it is an internal matter. Voicing support for the CAA and disapproval of Kerala’s resolution are also valid political opinions, but these should not translate into any ill-advised action such as hauling up the Chief Minister before the Privileges Committee of Parliament.