Ram Vilas Paswan Minister of Consumer Affairs, Food and Public Distribution. (Express Photo by Abhinav Saha)
With protests against the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill (CAA), National Register of Citizens (NRC) and the National Population Register (NPR) raging across the nation, Union Minister and Lok Janshakti Party (LJP) leader Ram Vilas Paswan spoke to The Indian Express on the issue.
What is your opinion of the protests at Shaheen Bagh (New Delhi), Patna, Gaya, Lucknow and other parts of the country? How these are different from earlier movements?
A movement starts automatically. For instance, the student movement of 1974, which was against the corruption, continued for months... Students would burn the bus and would do whatever they wanted. One day we met JP (Jayaprakash Narayan) and requested him to lead our movement. JP said you are doing tod-fod (sabotage) so he could not join.
When we requested again, he asked us to raise a slogan first. That slogan was "Hamla chaahe jaisa hoga, haath hamaara nahin uthega" (No matter how the attack, we will not lift our hands). After meeting JP, we realised the importance of non-violence in a movement. It became a pan-India movement. There was no violence. Later on, Congress leader the late Sanjay Gandhi tried to give (the protests) a communal colour but he couldn't succeed.
Now look at the present agitation, which started against the fee hike in JNU... It was not against the CAA in the beginning.
First of all, you have to understand the issue. First, there is a proposal to conduct the Census... Second, there is a Citizenship Amendment Act, 1955 which was amended by the Vajpayee Government in 2003. Documents are required for citizenship. It was the UPA government which amended the rules under this act on May 7, 2010, and added a provision for preparation of NPR... Today, this issue is being raised by the same people who caused this disease. Now, the people are being misled - that if you don't give the date and place of birth of your parents in NPR you will be considered doubtful and will be referred to NRC. They are claiming that through this people of minority will lose their citizenship which is not true.
The truth is that no one can deprive anyone of citizenship, be it Hindu, Muslim, Sikh, Christian, Dalit or Brahmin. Finally, when the Prime Minister had said that there is no proposal of NRC then why is such a misconception being created?
PM Modi meets with LJP chief Ramvilas Paswan and his son Chirag Paswan at an NDA alliance leaders dinner meet. (Express photo by Tashi Tobgyal)
But some people are anxious.
Some people have created the misconception that people will be asked for documents during NPR, and if you don't show the document, the matter will be transferred to an officer. This is not true. I have said that NPR should not be mandatory. Any column can be kept in the form, but people should have the privilege that if they do not know their own or their parent's date of birth, they can leave the column blank. I do not know the date of birth of my parents. Many people of the Scheduled Caste, Scheduled Tribe and Muslim communities do not know their date of birth. There cannot be any threat to their citizenship on this ground. The Prime Minister has taken the oath of the Constitution. Those who are born in India, those who are genuine citizens, they do not need to worry at all...
It seems that the government is not ready to accept that 20 crore people are worried.
The Prime Minister and the Home Minister have repeatedly talked about it... They (the opposition) say rollback the CAA. But how is CAA linked with it (NRC)? The government has made clear that it's not mandatory to give details about the date and place of birth of your parents. Its optional.
There is an impression that Muslims are being prejudiced against.
Those who have prejudice against the BJP and RSS are creating such an impression. However, there is no step in the last six years which differentiates between people on the basis of religion. You take the example of the abrogation of Articles 370 and 35A, the Supreme Court judgment on Ram Janmbhoomi - there was no protest on all these issues. The people who are fueling a community's sentiments against the CAA and NPR are doing a big disservice to the nation. If you have any issue, come and have a dialogue with the government.
Why is the government shying to engage on this issue?
Where is the government shying away? I don't see any political party which has asked for a discussion... In fact, whenever a meeting is called, they boycott it. On behalf of the LJP, I can guarantee that the government will not take any step which is against the interest of Dalits and minorities...
Prime Minister Narendra Modi has categorically said that there is no question of NRC and no discussion on the same. He is the PM for the next five years. What else proof you want? They (opposition leaders) say roll back CAA. How can it be rolled back? How will you roll back CAA?
But Home Minister Amit Shah has said that NRC will follow the CAA.
The Prime Minister is the head (of the government). In a democracy, people elect a government of a party and the MPs from that party elect the PM... The Prime Minister categorically said... that the CAA is to grant citizenship and not to deprive anyone of citizenship. As far as the issue of the NRC is concerned... when the Prime Minister has said (it won't happen) then you end the matter and believe his words...
What will happen if the government brings NRC despite an assurance from the PM?
If it comes, there will be a procedure, a discussion.. If we are the citizens of India, how one can dispute it? .the Prime Minister has said that there is no question of NRC. So the issue ends here.
Your party is an ally of the BJP. If a discussion on NRC comes, what will be your stand?
No means no. We are allies. Can't we trust the Prime Minister's words?
The opposition says the government brought up the issue of CAA and NPR to divert the people's attention from the economy
If the economy is not doing well, then why are you not raising that issue? Why are you raising the issue of CAA and NPR?...
We too have sympathy towards the agitating people. The Government does not want to see them protesting. We are pro-Dalit and pro-minority. I think the stand-off can be resolved through dialogue only.