Bhubaneswar/ New Delhi: With the contentious Citizenship (Amendment) Bill (CAB), introduced in the Rajya Sabha on Wednesday, expected to clear the Upper House hurdle soon with support from the BJD, the Naveen Patnaik-led party’s ‘secular credentials’ might for the first time come under the lens.
On Monday, the BJD backed passage of the Bill in the Lok Sabha, raising eyebrows in political circles over not just its increasing bonhomie with the BJP but also its perceptible shift in ideological stand rooted in secular values.
The BJD’s support with seven members will help the NDA in the Upper House where the Modi government’s tally could reach 127 against 113 of the Opposition. Besides BJD, Janata Dal-United (6), AIADMK(11), YSRCP (2), TDP (2), seven Independents and nominated members are likely to vote in favour of the bill. The BJP has 83 members but two among them could be absent due to health reasons.
Differences within the JD(U) over CAB have, however, come to the fore with some leaders like Pawan Varma opposing it. No one from BJD has questioned the party decision yet. But, going by discussions within party circles, the decision might harm its support base among Muslim community, which comprises over two per cent of the electorate in Odisha.
The CAB envisages granting of Indian citizenship status to illegal immigrants of six religions but not Muslims from Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan. This, the Congress and some Opposition parties, have termed as discriminatory and against the Indian Constitution.
The BJD decision’s has, therefore, come up for scrutiny. Senior party MP Prasanna Acharya said there is nothing in CAB that reeks of communalism.
“The BIll has been brought keeping in mind illegal Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Jains, Parsis and Christian migrants from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan. It is no religious test but proposes to allow citizenship to the opposed minority communities in those countries and considering the history that they share with India, it makes it natural for them to seek refuge here,” he said.
Acharya, however, stressed that his party was committed to securalism.
BJD insiders feel the party supported the Bill after Home Minister Amit Shah met several senior BJD members of Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha. The meeting reportedly took place while the debate on the Bill was on in the Lower House.
While BJD officially maintained that issue of formation of Odisha Legislative Council, which is pending with the Centre for the last one year; revision of coal royalty which is due since April, 2015; release of GST arrears and other issues concerning the State were discussed with Shah, the Congress said the meeting clearly hinted at a tacit understanding between the two political parties.
This Opposition version gained credence during the CAB debate. The BJD, which had expressed reservations over the part relating to Assam and wanted Bangladesh to be left out of it, went soft on its demands and sought three amendments to the Bill.
One, delink CAB from the National Register of Citizens (NRC). The Citizenship Amendment Bill, 2019, is an instrument to grant citizenship to a particular set of illegal migrants while NRC is an exercise to differentiate between illegal migrants from bona fide citizens.
Two, the Union government should allay any misgivings and apprehensions in the minds of Muslims over the Bill.
Three, include Sri Lanka in the list of nations alongside Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan, because there had been reports about mistreatment to minorities there in the past.
Indications of the growing closeness between BJP & BJD have been there for last some months following the 2019 elections. The BJP withdrew its candidate against the regional party, which has in recent months supported the Modi government on different issues, in the election to the managing committee of AIIMS-Bhubaneswar. The saffron party nominee Ashwini Vaishnab got BJD support in the Rajya Sabha polls in June, 2019.
The BJD had provided issue-based support to the NDA in the last Lok Sabha also. And this year, it has backed every single Bill, some of which it had earlier opposed, moved by the NDA in the monsoon session of Parliament.
“BJD is playing second fiddle to the BJP for the fear of revival of chit fund scam cases,” said Odisha Pradesh Congress Committee president Niranjan Patnaik told mediapersons after the CAB was passed in Lok Sabha on Monday.