Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan
“It’s nice to have an opinion about communism now, because once you’re living in it you don’t get to have an opinion about it,” renowned chess player Gary Kasparov tweeted recently. He was echoing dozens of others who before him have tried to hold a mirror to the pernicious ideology which has claimed millions of lives around the world.
It was amusing to read Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan’s article, ‘Of, by and for the Constitution’ (IE, January 18), given that in Kannur, Marxists are alleged to have murdered hundreds of nationalists and dozens of their own party men out of political vendetta. The party’s cadres are even alleged to have burnt down an entire herpetarium to settle intra-party scores.
An estranged comrade once claimed that Vijayan, in an earlier avatar as CPM party secretary, had advised party cadre to take lessons from West Bengal comrades on eliminating political rivals without leaving any proof. The party’s commitment to the Constitution and respect for democratic institutions can also be discerned from the contempt with which its leaders have treated the judiciary in the past. In 1970, the Supreme Court upheld the conviction of the late CPM stalwart, E M S Namboodiripad, for his remarks against the judiciary. In 1967, when Namboodiripad was Kerala CM, he called the judiciary “an instrument of oppression” and referred to judges as “dominated by class hatred and class prejudices”. More recently, prominent CPM Kerala leader M V Jayarajan was convicted for making offensive remarks against judges of the state’s high court.
Indian democracy is a product of the civilisational ethos which inspired the country’s independence movement. The Constitution reinforces this commitment and constitutional functionaries have an obligation to uphold it. When Article 1 of the Constitution declares that “India, that is Bharat, shall be a Union of States”, it recognises this civilisational character. For centuries, this land has given shelter to persecuted people from various parts of the world. The Citizenship (Amendment) Act, 2019 is another step towards fulfilling our civilisational commitment to shelter persecuted people. The Act also fulfills a commitment made under the Nehru-Liaquat pact of 1950.
I take this opportunity to dispel the misgivings about the CAA and refute the Goebbelsian propaganda that it’s based on religion. The CAA only relaxes the norms for granting citizenship to persecuted minorities from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan. It applies to people from these communities who have been illegally living in India and sets a cut-off date of December 31, 2014. The Act reduces the naturalisation period from 11 years to five years.
It’s not that those belonging to the majority community in the three countries are denied Indian citizenship. Hundreds of them, including the likes of singer Adnan Sami, have been given Indian citizenship. For them, the period of naturalisation remains 11 years as stipulated by the Citizenship Act, 1955.
The CAA is based on a reasonable classification that takes into account religious persecution of the minorities in the three Islamic countries. It’s sad that the Kerala CM and his party find fault with a law which extends a helping hand to hapless souls, mostly Dalits, who stayed in Pakistan because of Dalit leaders like Jogendra Nath Mandal. Despite being Pakistan’s first law minister, Mandal was forced to come back to India. But the Dalits who stayed behind in Pakistan faced the brunt of religious persecution.
Vijayan’s opposition to the CAA only exposes the heartless politics of the Left and the Congress. But his arguments are not surprising given the record of the Left in India and across the world. It was a Left regime that oversaw the Marichjhapi massacre, described as one of the worst human rights violations in independent India. The Marxist government in West Bengal unleashed violence leading to the death of Hindu refugees from Bangladesh who had settled in the Sunderbans.
Instead of implementing the CAA — which every state is mandated to under Article 256 of the Constitution — the Kerala government has chosen to challenge it before the Supreme Court under Article 131. The Article is meant to be invoked only for disputes between the Centre and states. It can also be invoked “in case of a dispute between the Centre and any state or states, on one side and one or more other states on the other or between two or more states, if and in so far as the dispute involves any question (whether of law or fact) on which the existence or extent of a legal right depends”.
What is the legal right that has been violated here? Entry 17 of the Union List under the Seventh Schedule refer to citizenship and naturalisation. Parliament alone is competent to enact laws on this subject. Federalism is a two-way street. States must respect the Centre’s (Parliament’s) rights.
I am glad that the Kerala CM has expressed concern about the country’s economy. But let’s not forget that Kerala’s lopsided economic policies and historic antipathy to industrialists has made the state into a zone which business outfits dread to venture into. Recently in Kannur, a young NRI businessman, Sajan Parayil, committed suicide after failing to get a convention centre built with his life’s savings opened. His family claimed Parayil was a victim of intra-party rivalry in the CPM. Earlier this month, the managing director of Muthoot Finance, George Alexander Muthoot, was attacked by miscreants, who stoned his car. The CPM’s trade union wing CITU was up in arms against the group over labour-related issues.
Vijayan has expressed concern for India’s image in the world. But this is nothing but hypocrisy given the manner in which alleged CITU goons troubled Nobel laureate Michael Levitt and his wife in the backwaters in Alappuzha district recently. A visibly upset Levitt has expressed his unhappiness in no uncertain terms.
Perhaps it’s time Vijayan first deals with the skeletons in his own closet and let Parliament do its duty.
This article first appeared in the print edition on January 22, 2020 under the title 'Federalism is a two-way street'. The writer is Minister of State for External Affairs and Minister of State for Parliamentary Affairs.