Even as Amit Shah taunted the Congress by saying the “NDA did what the UPA could not”, Mamata Banerjee launched a fierce attack on the BJP for its “divide and rule” politics.
New Delhi: The national capital witnessed an intense political battle over the National Register of Citizens (NRC) on Tuesday. Ever since the final draft of the NRC was released on July 30, the exclusion of around 40 lakh people in Assam, who the BJP has called “Bangladeshi infiltrators”, has become a strong point of contention between the opposition and the ruling party.
While BJP president Amit Shah’s statement that the “NDA did what the UPA could not” provoked the opposition enough to force an adjournment in the upper house on Tuesday morning, opposition leaders Mamata Banerjee and Anand Sharma took turns to attack the BJP for reducing a humanitarian problem in Assam into an electoral tactic.
Shah referred to the Assam Accord signed in 1985 by the Rajiv Gandhi-led government to say that NRC had been promised by the Congress but that the party did not have the courage to implement it. Instead, it took the NDA to execute the “soul of the accord”, which, according to him, is the NRC. He said that the NRC was the single most important clause in the accord to drive away Bangladeshi “illegal immigrants”.
Later at a press conference, Shah pitched the NRC as a step ahead to oust infiltrators and asked the opposition to clear its stand.
Responding to the Congress, which has objected to the implementation of the NRC process and criticised the BJP for using it for political gains, and West Bengal chief minister and Trinamool Congress chief Mamata Banerjee, who a day earlier had said it was an issue of humanitarian crisis and offered the left-out people shelter in West Bengal, Shah said, “The opposition was only concerned of vote bank politics. For us, NRC is about national security and driving out ghuspathiyas (infiltrators)”.
While indirectly attacking the opposition for its so-called “minority appeasement” politics, the BJP president said there was a deliberate ploy by the government to equate infiltrators with refugees. In an obvious reference to BJP’s support to Hindu immigrants from Bangladesh, he said refugees are those who have lost their dignity in some other country, have been brutalised and therefore seek refuge in a different country. However, he did not comment on why the party was opposing the Rohingyas, the Muslim minority community who have been brutalised in Myanmar and are seeking shelter in India.
He further attacked the Congress by pointing out that both Indira Gandhi and former home minister P. Chidambaram had given statements opposing the” illegal immigration” of Bangladeshis when the party was in power but had changed its position when it is in opposition. “Our stand on the issue has always been the same. Even when we were in opposition, we opposed illegal immigration in Assam and even today, we are determined to stop it. NRC is the first step towards the goal.”
He also said that the Congress thinks the NRC will lead to violation of human rights. He said that the Congress is bothered about the human rights of “illegal immigrants but not Indians” who have been deprived of Indian resources because of the ghuspaithiyas.
Mamata Banerjee’s poll bugle?
However, Banerjee, used the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India (CBCI)-hosted symposium, where she was the chief guest, to attack the BJP in one of her most aggressive political speeches. Taking off from the theme of the event – “love your neighbour” – she said, “We have to create an environment to love our neighbours. Today, in Assam, more than 40 lakh people are being said that you are neither citizens of India nor voters. I am shocked to see how Indian became foreigners in their own land. The family members of the former Indian president Fakhruddin Ali Ahmed are also not listed in the NRC.”
She attacked the BJP by saying that the ruling party’s “divide and rule” politics will create a situation of a “civil war”.
“There will be a bloodbath. The civil war has already started. Section 144 has been imposed in all districts of Assam. How can you let your own people die? There are so many poor people who have been living in India for generations who are being asked to leave. What will be the fate of this nation (if your own people are being told to leave this country),” she asked.
She further said that the BJP’s audacity has grown so much that it now says that what it started with Assam will continue in West Bengal. “Now they are saying who will stay in Bengal and this country and who will not. India is our motherland. We will not let this happen,” she said.
Disagreeing with the Catholic Church, which gave a call to spread love among everyone, irrespective of one’s political affiliation, Banerjee said, “Dalits, Christians, Muslims, are all being isolated and assaulted today. You are being told what to eat, what to say, what to wear, where to go, what to do. There have been so many incidents of mob lynching in Jharkhand and elsewhere. It can happen in Chhattisgarh. It can happen in UP. How can I tell those killers, I love you. I am not that liberal.”
“In Jharkhand, why are missionaries being targeted by a particular party,” she said, training her guns on the saffron party ruled state, adding that such incidents of violence may not happen in Bengal, Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka as she, Telugu Desam Party’s N. Chandrababu Naidu, and Janata Dal (Secular)’s H.D Kumaraswamy are leading these states. She alleged that the BJP is resorting to divisive politics that victimises the poor only to win elections.
“This (violence against the vulnerable) cannot continue; this cannot be tolerated. India needs change. And that change must be in 2019,” she said.
The grand old party too came out to attack the BJP on NRC but stayed away from TMC’s aggressive posturing. Keeping the Assam Accord in mind, the Congress attacked the way NRC has been implemented by the NDA instead of disagreeing with it wholeheartedly.
Soon after the Rajya Sabha was adjourned, Congress leader Anand Sharma said, “We have no disagreements with the the BJP on the necessity of having a NRC. We do not disagree with it in principle. But we have problems with the way it was put into processing.”
He added that the NRC was a sensitive issue and create a humanitarian crisis. “People from all over India have been staying in Assam. If such a large number of people will be displaced, it will be our responsibility. It can lead to a situation where Indian citizens could be forced to live like a refugee,” Sharma said, adding that the government should take care that human rights are people are not violated.
He pointed out that Shah was deliberately trying to politicise the issue (in reference to Shah’s statement about Congress not having the courage to implement the NRC) and provoke people on this sensitive issue. “We all know that BJP’s actual intention is to divide people and create an environment of mistrust in society. It wants to polarise the electorate before the 2019 polls. Ek vibhajan ki lakeer taiyar karna chahti hai BJP (BJP wants to draw a divisive line in society),” the former union minister of commerce said.
Electoral battle lines drawn?
Much of what came out in the debate indicated that NRC may turn out to be one of the bigger campaign issues in the run-up to the 2019 polls. While the BJP will push it as an issue of national security and a crucial solution to the problem of unemployment, the opposition will continue to portray it as BJP driving a communal wedge between the Hindus and the Muslims.
It was also evident today that the opposition, especially the regional parties, may lead a a coordinated campaign against the BJP. In a brief interaction with the press immediately after her speech, Banerjee said that the opposition would fight the 2019 elections under a “collective leadership” and “people will decide the leader after the polls”. What indicated that Naidu and Mamata are on the same page could be deduced from the way the Bengal chief minister spoke about Amit Shah and Narendra Modi. Banerjee said, “Who is Amit Shah to tell us what we should do? How can Modi and Shah decide who is a foreigner or not? We have seen Indian politics from much before both Modi and Shah.”
To put this in context, even Andhra Pradesh chief minister Naidu has been asserting his seniority in Indian politics against Modi and Shah. He had spoken dismissively about Shah when he accused the TDP chief of failing in governance earlier this month.
The theme of “love” and humanity that Rahul Gandhi has been advancing since the beginning of the year against what the Congress calls BJP’s politics of hate reverberated in the opposition speeches. Banerjee stressed that the non-BJP parties wanted to spread love from a forum that was held precisely on this theme. She contrasted figures like Mother Teresa with Hindutva activists. Although the Congress shied away from taking a clear stand on the NRC, it nonetheless attacked the BJP for dividing the people on religious grounds and drew attention to the humanitarian crisis the NRC can lead to.