Former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Congress interim president Sonia Gandhi, former Defence Minister A K Antony and Mallikarjun Kharge at the Congress Working Committee meeting on Saturday. (Express photo by Tashi Tobgyal)
The Congress on Saturday asked the Centre to immediately stop the process of updating the National Population Register (NPR) — the first indication that Congress-ruled Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, and Punjab may not participate in the massive nationwide exercise.
Kerala and West Bengal have already rejected the NPR. A senior Congress leader indicated that the party’s governments in the states could bring Assembly resolutions against the NPR exercise. “If state legislatures pass resolutions, it will assume an altogether different dimension,” the leader told The Sunday Express.
At the beginning of a meeting of the Congress’s highest policymaking body in Delhi, party president Sonia Gandhi described NPR 2020 as a “disguised NRC (National Register of Citizens) in form and content”, and not a “benign exercise”.
“At first, the government thought that the NRC exercise could be carried out throughout the country. After the disastrous results of the Assam NRC, the government has hit upon the idea of NPR. Let us not be under any illusion that the NPR is a benign exercise. In form and content, NPR 2020 is a disguised NRC. As a party in government in several states, we must take a wise and uniform decision on NPR...,” Sonia said.
Former Congress president Rahul Gandhi is abroad, and was not present at the meeting. After deliberations, the Congress Working Committee (CWC) came out with a strongly-worded resolution demanding that the “Citizenship Amendment Act should be withdrawn and the process of NPR be stopped forthwith”.
On Friday, AICC general secretary Priyanka Gandhi Vadra had told students of Banaras Hindu University and social activists who were arrested over protests against the new citizenship law and NRC, that the Congress would revoke the CAA if voted to power at the Centre in 2024. Sonia told the CWC that the “CAA is a discriminatory and divisive law”, the “sinister purpose” of which was to divide the Indian people on religious lines.
“The ill-conceived Citizenship Amendment Bill has led to spontaneous nationwide protests. It has raised bona fide questions regarding its constitutional validity and political morality. The CAA and proposed NRC have created an environment of fear and anxiety in the country especially among the religious and linguistic minorities, tribals, poor and the vulnerable sections of the society,” the CWC resolution said.
NPR opposition gets more heft
The five states ruled by the Congress account for a little more than 16% of India’s population. West Bengal and Kerala, which have already decided to stop NPR, are another 10.3%. The Congress has the potential to influence governments in Maharashtra and Jharkhand (12.01%). These add up to almost 40% of population.
Arguing that the people have a right to protest against the wrong policies of the government, and that it was the duty of the government to address the legitimate apprehensions and concerns of the people, the CWC alleged the government’s response had been “insensitive”, and accused it of “blatant use of State power to silence the voices of dissent”.
Sonia spoke about “police excesses” and “use of brute force” in many towns of UP, and in universities such as Jamia Millia Islamia and JNU. “We have no faith that either the UP state government or the LG of Delhi will bring the culprits to justice. We therefore demand that a comprehensive high-powered commission should be constituted to enquire into the incidents connected with the anti-CAA protests and justice to the affected persons,” she said.
The BJP-led government, the CWC resolution said, “has used its brute majority to impose its divisive and discriminatory agenda in an insensitive manner”. It cautioned the government “that its pursuit of a divisive agenda with the sole objective of polarisation may give short-term political dividends but will create deep fissures in the society undermining national unity and social stability”.
The citizenship Act, the resolution said, “presents a serious challenge to internal security and makes India vulnerable to hostile external forces”, and demanded that the Act “should be withdrawn and the process of NPR be stopped forthwith”.
Significantly, the CWC passed a separate resolution slamming the “suppression of the voice of youth and the students of India”. It expressed solidarity with the youth and the students in their “fight for defending the Constitution, standing for independent and creative learning and aspiring for employment-linked education at a minimal expense”, and asked “every worker” of the party to work alongside the youth and the students in this endeavour.
At least two CWC members, R P N Singh and Jitendra Singh, however, felt by actively taking up these issues, the party would be “walking into the BJP trap” of polarising the country. Sources said these leaders felt that the party should focus more on livelihood issues like the economic crisis and unemployment.
Those who disagreed argued that the economic slowdown and unemployment were indeed being taken up very effectively, but the Congress could not remain silent on the other issues, the sources said. Priyanka Gandhi Vadra, who has been the party’s most visible face in the campaign against the new citizenship law and NRC, is learnt to have argued that the party needs to take these issues to the rural areas, and to articulate the Congress’s position better.
Several leaders agreed that a campaign should be undertaken in the villages to counter the BJP’s narrative. It is learnt that senior leader P Chidambaram said Assemblies in party-ruled states should pass resolutions against the attempt to roll out the NRC under the garb of the NPR.
The economic situation, the CWC said, was alarming, with India staring at a deepening economic crisis. The government was guilty of monumental mismanagement of the economy, the Congress said, and asked it to reveal its roadmap for reviving the economy, investors’ confidence, and creation of jobs.
The government, it said, has “inflicted long term damage with the arbitrary decisions of demonetisation and hasty imposition of a flawed GST model, which destroyed the unorganised sector of the economy, rendering millions of workers jobless”.
The Congress also asked the government to lift curbs and restore civil liberties in Jammu and Kashmir.
“The shutdown in the Kashmir Valley has now entered its sixth month and the citizens continue to face avoidable hardships. People are denied the enjoyment of their fundamental rights. This is not acceptable in a democracy.
Former Chief Ministers and leaders of mainstream parties remain in detention while government makes hollow claims of normalcy and arranges guided tours of diplomats. It is deplorable since our own Indian leaders of political parties and Members of Parliament are denied the freedom to visit the Valley and meet the people,” it said.