Oppn MPs may wear black band during Prez Address

Questions on CAA dominate all-party meet, some Opposition MPs may wear black band during President Kovind's Address

Senior Congress MP and Rajya Sabha Leader of Opposition Ghulam Nabi Azad said the government was dividing the country instead of uniting people by passing such legislations. (PTI Photo)

An all-party meeting ahead of Parliament's Budget Session saw NDA ally Akali Dal mincing no words in its disagreement over Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) and warning the Narendra Modi government against bringing legislations that "hurt" citizens, even as parties like the BJD too joining the Opposition chorus against the controversial law.

The mood against CAA coupled with National Population Register (NPR) and National Register of Citizens (NRC) at the meeting on Thursday could be a precursor to the parties raising pitch on the issue with MPs from a section of the Opposition planning to attend the customary President's address in Central Hall wearing black bands to register their protest.

If Akali Dal once again raised its objection over exclusion of Muslims from the ambit of CAA, BJD is learnt to have told the meeting convened by the government that it supported the Bill in right spirit but it appeared that the government actually had NPR and NRC as a follow-up action, to which they are opposed to.

Sources said almost all parties from Congress to Trinamool Congress to the Left parties raised concerns over CAA-NPR-NRC with Akali Dal, which had voted in favour when the Bill came up in Parliament in Winter Session, being the "most vociferous" in its opposition to the move, saying it religion-based citizenship was "unacceptable". Parties from the North-East have also suggested that the region should be kept out of the ambit of CAA, as people were not taking it "nicely".

Akali Dal Rajya Sabha MP Balwinder Singh Bhunder, who stood in for party chief Sukhbir Badal as he was attending a party programme in Punjab, told the meeting that the government should not bring legislations that hurt citizens and minorities and that the party was opposed to religion-based citizenship, sources said. Akali Dal, which had decided not to contest Delhi Assembly polls owing to differences with the BJP on CAA, had on Wednesday announced that it would support the saffron party in the election.

BJD, which keeps equidistant from both camps but has voted with NDA in critical junctures, is learnt to have raised concerns over the government's plans on NPR and NRC. It's Lok Sabha leader Pinaki Mishra said they voted in favour of CAA but the government was now using it to push NPR and NRC and this has raised concerns, especially with ministers speaking in different voices.

Mishra wanted a discussion on the impact of the implementation of CAA, a demand which was echoed by RSP's N K Premachandran, who said the Parliament should first discuss the issue soon after Budget is presented by breaking the precedence of debating the Motion of Thanks to the President's Speech.

Senior Congress MP and Rajya Sabha Leader of Opposition Ghulam Nabi Azad said the government was dividing the country instead of uniting people by passing such legislations. He accused the government of turning the all-party meeting to a "photo-op and ritual", as it makes sessions shorter and shrink the space for Opposition in Parliament.

Trinamool Congress, which was represented by Lok Sabha leader Sudip Bandyopadhyay and Rajya Sabha leader Derek O'Brien, raised the issue of CAA-NPR-NRC, unemployment and economic situation in the country. "You are putting more stress on the poor," Bandyopadhyay told the meeting, as he warned the government, "the Congress has come down to 44 after getting over 400 at one time. You have 303. The zero in the middle can be removed. Be very careful."

"Attended all Parliamentary party leaders meeting a day before the Budget session begins. What to expect this session. Same usual. Same chai. Same dhokla. Same sweet talk. And then Modi-(Home Minister Amit)Shah will mock precedents and procedures of Parliament in the weeks ahead," O'Brien said.

RJD's Manoj Jha is learnt to have said the "old BJP" would have understood the concerns raised by the leaders while the "new BJP", in reference to the leadership of Modi and Shah, will not understand it. Turning to Defence Minister Rajnath Singh, he was quoted by sources as saying, "you will understand. But not the new BJP. When you were the Home Minister, there was no change on Kashmir because you understood it.”

Sources said Samajwadi Party leader Ramgopal Yadav said that the BJP was "messing up the entire country" after winning 33% of votes when the rest had voted against it while Union Minister Ramdas Athawale, whose Republican Party of India (Athawale) is an NDA ally, too said concerns over the legislation should be addressed.

YSR Congress too reiterated its declared position that it will not allow NRC in Andhra Pradesh where they are in power.

Sources also said there was discussion within the Congress to boycott the President's Address but party chief Sonia Gandhi was against the idea. She had also instructed party MPs not to obstruct the address even as the party is learnt to be planning to protest in Central Hall by wearing black bands. MPs from some other Opposition parties are also likely to join Congress in this protest.