Thiruvananthapuram/ Kolkata/ New Delhi: Rising resentment over the manner and speed at which the BJP-led government pushed the Citizenship (Amendment) Act through Parliament, and rage at the overt communal spirit of the legislation seems to have spurred Opposition parties across the country to consolidate and take to the streets in protest. So much so that while in Kerala, the ruling Left Democratic Front (LDF) and its principal rival, the Congress-led United Democratic Front (UDF), came together to oppose the amended Citizenship Act, in Kolkata, chief minister Mamata Banerjee led a massive rally and declared that if the Centre insists on implementing the CAA and the National Register of Citizens (NRC) in her state, it will have to do so over her “dead body”. Former President Pranab Mukherjee too joined the rising chorus against the amended Citizenship Act on Monday.
“A numerical majority in elections gives you the right to make a stable government. The lack of popular majority forbids you from (becoming) a majoritarian government. That is the message and essence of our parliamentary democracy,” he said in his address at the second Atal Bihari Vajpayee Memorial Lecture at New Delhi’s India Foundation.
Mr Mukherjee also pointed out that while people have given “strong majorities” to various political parties since 1952, not a single one has been elected with over 50 per cent vote share, the mark of a popular majority. The ruling BJP won 38 per cent of the total votes in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections.
Adding more fuel to the Opposition parties’ anti-government demonstrations and sharpening their accusations of high-handedness were protests by Opposition leaders on Monday against the police’s alleged brutal attack on students in Delhi and Aligarh.
In Delhi on Monday, Congress general secretary Priyanka Gandhi sat in a dharna at India Gate in protest against the police action and in solidarity with the students of Jamia Millia Islamia and Aligarh Muslim University, at a joint press conference, Opposition leaders, including the Congress’ Ghulam Nabi Azad and Kapil Sibal, CPI(M) general secretary Sitaram Yechury, CPI’s D. Raja, RJD leader Manoj Jha and Samajwadi Party’s Javel Ali Khan condemned the alleged police “brutality” against students and said they would launch a country-wide agitation against the Citizenship Amendment Act.
“I’m a mother too. You entered into their library, dragged them out and thrashed them up. This is tyranny,” Ms Gandhi said as she sat surrounded by around 300 party leaders and workers at a two-hour “silent protest” under the Amar Jawan Jyoti.
“This country is for everyone, it is for all those students who were beaten up yesterday. Attack on students is an attack on the soul of India,” she added. Ms Gandhi was joined at the protest by the Congress’ Ahmed Patel, A.K. Antony, Ghulam Nabi Azad, Sushmita Dev and Randeep Singh Surjewala.
In Kolkata, Ms Banerjee dared the Centre to dismiss her government for opposing the implementation of the CAA and the National Register of Citizens (NRC) and made it clear that even if she is out of power, she would still not allow the CAA and NRC to be effective at any cost.
Demanding the rollback of CAA and NRC, the Trinamul Congress supremo threw another challenge to the BJP government at the Centre after leading a protest rally from Kolkata’s B.R. Ambedkar Statue on Red Road to Jorasanko on Chittaranjan Avenue. She declared that if the Central government continues with its determination to implement the CAA and NRC in West Bengal, it would have to do so over her “dead body”.
In Kerala, Kerala chief minister and CPI(M) veteran Pinarayi Vijayan and senior Congress leader and Opposition head in the state Assembly, Ramesh Chennitha, set aside their differences to raise their voices in unison against the Citizenship (Amendment) Act.
They came together on the same platform, shook hands, exchanged pleasantries and then led a joint protest against the CAA, marking a rare chapter in the state’s politics.
Addressing the Kolkata rally, the Trinamul chief claimed, “The BJP is threatening to drive out people. Nothing will happen. Who will do it? Are we alive or not? I have also built a party of which I am the chairperson. We will not accept CAA and NRC — that is for sure. What will they do? Will they dismiss our government? Do it. Throw me away too. We fight for honour and honesty. We may live in hunger, but we will not surrender to you.”
She told the crowd, “The Citizenship (Amendment) Act has to be withdrawn. The CAA and NRC are same sides of a lollipop. We will continue our movement until they are withdrawn… If they have to implement the CAA and NRC here, they have to do it over my dead body. Otherwise it would not happen.”
Reiterating her faith in the state police, Ms Banerjee said that she had rejected the Narendra Modi government’s offer to deploy Central paramilitary forces to tackle the large-scale violence across the state’s districts that entered its fourth day on Monday. She instead advised the BJP to first tackle the volatile situation in New Delhi, Assam, Tripura and Meghalaya over the CAA and NRC.
Appealing for peace, Ms Banerjee added, “Some BJP leaders are wondering why President’s Rule has not been imposed here. They are talking of sending the Central Industrial Police Force or the Army or the Border Security Force here. Do not fall into their trap. Another big leader is issuing warnings to us. I ask him to first warn the governments in Assam, Tripura and Meghalaya, where the BJP is in power.”
Meanwhile, West Bengal governor Jagdeep Dhankhar sent a letter to Ms Banerjee asking her to update him personally on the violence in the state. His move came after a no-show by state chief secretary Rajiva Sinha and state director general of police Virendra though he had summoned them to brief him at Raj Bhavan on Monday morning.