Mumbai: The decision of the Shiv Sena to first favour the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill in the Lok Sabha and then to completely stay away from the Rajya Sabha voting has angered its coalition partners in Maharashtra.
Several leaders in the Congress and the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP), which is in coalition with the Sena in the state government, have told The Wire that the Sena’s stand has caused them embarrassment. Senior leadership of the Congress and the NCP have also expressed their sharp displeasure, sources have confirmed.
On December 9, the Sena faced its first litmus test when the party’s members of parliament had to vote on the CAB. Contrary to what was promised only a fortnight ago, in the tri-party common minimum programme (CMP), the Sena’s 18 MPs in the lower house shocked the coalition by supporting the CAB. This was done even when the CAB has been widely criticised by the Congress and the NCP for its divisive, communal nature.
On November 28, the newly floated tri-party coalition also known as ‘Maha Vikas Aghadi’ had agreed upon crucial points as their CMP to run the government in Maharashtra state for the next five years. Sena, along with the Congress and the Nationalist Congress Party, as a part of an unusual alliance, had reached a consensus and agreed that they would carry on with a “secular, all-inclusive” outlook as a part of the alliance.
For a party like the Sena, which has stuck to its pro-Hindutva stance for over four decades, this was a clear deviation. But the party had agreed, mostly in order to keep its pre-poll ally Bhartiya Janata Party out of power.
However, the flip-flops in the parliament, as learned by The Wire, has miffed both the Congress and the NCP.
Soon after the voting process in the Lok Sabha was completed, Congress leader Rahul Gandhi tweeted against all those supporting the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill. “The #CAB is an attack on the Indian constitution. Anyone who supports it is attacking and attempting to destroy the foundation of our nation,” Rahul tweeted, after the Bill to amend a six-decade-old law to make it easier for the “non-Muslim refugees” from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan to become Indian citizens was passed in the Lok Sabha.
NCP’s member of parliament and senior leader Praful Patel too condemned the amendment. He said that the amendment violated the spirit of the Indian Constitution and needed to be opposed. “It (CAB) violates the certain spirit of the constitution, especially Section 14, and it is important to analyse the circumstances,” he added.
Sena has been an uncomfortable ally in the Maha Vikas Aghadi since the very start. But after breaking away from the BJP, it was left with little choice but to agree to the CMP.
Reluctantly, the three parties had agreed upon a CMP, whose preamble read:
“The alliance partners commit to uphold the secular values enshrined in the Constitution. On the contentious issue of national importance as well as of state importance especially having repercussions/consequences on the secular fabric of the nation, the Shiv Sena, the NCP and the Congress will take a joint view after holding consultations and arriving at a consensus.”
But many in the Congress and the NCP consider Sena’s flipflop has dishonoured the very preamble of the CMP.
Sena’s sudden u-turn
The Sena’s stand was unexpected as the party’s mouthpiece Saamna had called the CAB an instrument that could lead to an “invisible partition” in India. But on the floor of the parliament, the Sena did exactly the opposite.
Speaking to NDTV, Sena MP Arvind Sawant said his party supported the bill “in the interest of the nation” and that the “CMP is applicable in Maharashtra only”. Sena’s 18 MPs were among the 311 who voted for the bill as against the minority 80 in the lower house who opposed. In all 391 members were present and had voted.
Soon after, Sena leaders were put under tremendous pressure and were asked to reconsider their stance in the Rajya Sabha.
In the Lok Sabha, the Sena had sought an explanation as to why the bill talked of non- Muslim refugees of Pakistan, Bangladesh, Afghanistan, and not of the Tamils in Sri Lanka. Sena MP Sanjay Raut “The situation of the Hindus in Nepal is much worse with infiltration from China and Pakistan in the region. The Hindus cannot even acknowledge the fact that they are Hindus. So, it is not about politics, but humanity. And humanity does not have any religion,” he said. This became Sena’s new alibi to oppose the bill in the Rajya Sabha.
Sena chief and state’s chief minister Uddhav Thackeray in his defence, said, “We need to change this notion that one who supports the Bill and the BJP is a patriot and one who opposes it is anti-national.” “The government should answer all the issues raised on the Bill,” he further added.
To this, a senior NCP leader and a close confidante of the party chief Sharad Pawar said, “Der aaye durust aaye (‘better late than never’).”
But on December 11, the party again changed its stand. The Sena’s three MPs in the Rajya Sabha were to vote against the bill but at the nth hour, they decided to stay away. At the time of voting, the Sena MPs had walked out.
Interestingly, two NCP MPs Majid Memon and Vidya Chavan too were absent at the time of voting at the Rajya Sabha. Patel claimed that Memon was unwell and Chavan had a marriage to attend and hence both had to stay away from the Rajya Sabha on such a crucial day. Of the total 240 MPs in the Rajya Sabha, 230 had voted. Out of the 10 absent, five were from Maharashtra.
The CAB was the coalition’s first test. It had taken an entire month after the election result for the three parties to come together and form a government. The Congress, although, has a small share in the state government, has made it amply clear that it would not compromise on the issue of secularism while being a part of the coalition. The stability of the government now depends on how the Sena conducts itself in the coming days and stays true to the promises made in the CMP.