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Akalis torment BJP in Delhi

2 strong BJP allies oppose the CAA

By J.P. Yadav and Dev Raj in Patna and New Delhi

  • Published 21.01.20, 3:20 AM
  • Updated 21.01.20, 3:20 AM
Members of Shiromani Akali Dal hold placards during a protest against Citizenship Amendment Act , in Chandigarh, Friday, January 17, 2020.
Members of Shiromani Akali Dal hold placards during a protest against Citizenship Amendment Act , in Chandigarh, Friday, January 17, 2020. (PTI)

As the nationwide protests refuse to die, the Narendra Modi government has found itself besieged by allies who are irate at the manner in which the citizenship matrix has been thrust and who now want the proposals rolled back.

Two strong BJP allies, the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) and Ram Vilas Paswan’s Lok Janshakti Party (LJP), on Monday strongly opposed the government’s move to ride roughshod over objections and push the contentious CAA-NRC combination.

The criticism from within the ruling coalition came on a day the Prime Minister slammed the Opposition for “spreading lies” and accused the media of bias.

The Akali Dal declared that it had decided not to contest the upcoming Delhi Assembly polls in alliance with the BJP to protest against the government’s firmness about not including Muslims in the CAA.

The Akali Dal also declared that it was firmly against forcing citizens to stand in queues to prove their citizenship under the proposed National Register of Citizens.

Having earlier lost its biggest partner, the Shiv Sena, the BJP must now contend with the indignation of nearly all its major allies —- the Akalis, Nitish Kumar’s JDU and the LJP. All of them voted in Parliament to amend the Citizenship Act, but are probably changing their stand because of the robust and widespread public protests.

Sikhs as well as Dalits, the core support bases of the SAD and the LJP, have joined the protests in large numbers.

The blow from the Akali Dal is a big one for the BJP. Delhi has a large population of Sikhs and the rift is expected to influence the February 8 polls.

“Our leader Sukhbir Singh Badal has always maintained that all religions should be included in the CAA and that Muslims should not be left out. We told this to the BJP leadership but they didn’t agree and so, instead of compromising on our stand, we decided not to contest the Delhi polls,” Akali Dal MLA Manjinder Singh Sirsa told reporters in Delhi.

“During our meeting with the BJP, we were asked to reconsider our stand on the CAA but we declined to do so. The Shiromani Akali Dal is of the firm stand that Muslims cannot be left out of the CAA,” PTI quoted Sirsa as saying.

Internally, the BJP claimed that the Akali Dal had decided not to contest in alliance since it wanted more seats. “The real reason is not the CAA, it’s seats. They wanted four seats but we were giving two. They didn’t agree and so the talks broke down,” a BJP leader said.

Sirsa denied this. He said that while supporting the CAB in Parliament, the Akali Dal had put across its stand in both Houses and demanded that the exclusion of Muslims be reconsidered. “Dividing this nation on religious lines is not good,” he said.

On the NRC, Sirsa said the party’s stand was uncompromising. “We are also against the NRC. We want that there should be no law that makes people stand in queues to prove their credentials. This is a great nation and there is no space for communalism,” Sirsa said.

Under the Narendra Modi-Amit Shah combine, the BJP has got away with bullying allies. But that may be changing. The Sena called the BJP’s bluff after a long standoff over government formation in Maharashtra. The other allies are now tuning into their supporters’ anguish over the CAA-NRC and refusing to play ball.

Union minister Paswan spoke in Patna and expressed displeasure at the way the CAA, the abrogation of key provisions of Article 370 and the Ram temple verdict had come in quick succession.

“The government thinks it has the majority, so it can do whatever it wants. They can bring any law. Things that were in the party’s (the BJP’s) manifesto are being implemented,” Paswan told The Telegraph on the sidelines of a media interaction in Patna.

Paswan supported the CAA, saying it was aimed at giving citizenship to persecuted minorities in neighbouring countries. But he criticised the new questions in the National Population Register and the manner in which the government was dealing with the student protests against the CAA-NRC.

“I raised this issue of the NPR and the date of birth of parents with Amit Shahji. If you talk about the date of birth, I do not remember mine. So do I cease to be a citizen of this country? There are a large number of people who have never known their actual date of birth. Thankfully, this issue has been rectified and I guess people will come to know about the changes soon,” Paswan said.

On the NRC, Paswan took a firm stand and said it was not going to be implemented. He added that it was beyond the power of any political party to take away the citizenship of people belonging to any religion.

Although Paswan stopped short of supporting or opposing the students’ agitation across the country, he expressed displeasure at the police action on students.

“At times, the police indulge in atrocities and exceed the limit. We all know this. The way they acted against students at various places, including those in the library of Jamia Millia Islamia, is unacceptable. As students, we were taught that speech should be free and action restrained, and we followed it. It should hold true even now,” Paswan said.

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