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Uproar in Rajya Sabha over Assam NRC: Amit Shah's surprise attack on Congress bolsters BJP narrative

Towards the end of the short debate on the second and final draft of National Register of Citizens (NRC) in Assam, Rajya Sabha Chairman Venkaiah Naidu called on BJP president Amit Shah as the next speaker. The BJP chief’s decision to step up and address the House on this sensitive issue is indicative of his and the Modi government’s intent to take a clear stand and convey a strong message to all concerned that it is not going to bow to any pressure tactics from the Opposition parties or of so-called human rights groups.

File image of BJP president Amit Shah. PTI

File image of BJP president Amit Shah. PTI

The sense of unease in the Opposition benches in the Upper House was clear. It was apparently taken by surprise. In these short debates, the ruling party does not usually field its top guns. It is left to the minister concerned to respond. Even before Shah could rise, objections from the Opposition came in form of a 'point of order' by a Trinamool Congress member. As soon as he began to speak, Congress leader Anand Sharma objected, and pointed to the watch. But Shah continued, and said he would finish within the stipulated time.

Incidentally, this was also the first time since Naidu took over as Rajya Sabha Chairman that he allowed Question Hour to be suspended and had a short debate on a subject which the Opposition insisted was an issue of 'urgent national importance'.

But as the irony would have it, Shah, the last speaker on the list, was not allowed to talk properly. Home Minister Rajnath Singh, who was to respond, was also not allowed to speak. Singh, who had been trying to make a statement and respond to members' concerns and queries was not allowed to speak despite repeated requests from the Chairman.

Shah barely spoke for two minutes before his speech was interrupted. But he managed to convey the central thrust of his message: That the Rajiv Gandhi government signed the Assam Accord in August 1985 with All Jharkhand Students Union (AAJSU), and conceded to the protesters' demands for identification and deportation of illegal immigrants (Bangladeshis or “foreigners”) and that the National Register of Citizens (NRC) is the soul of the Assam Accord.

The mere mention of Rajiv’s name caused an uproar in the Congress ranks. The meaning behind Shah referring to Rajiv and the Assam Accord as the soul of the NRC is that Rahul, as Congress president, is opposing what his father agreed to, with sign and seal. Surely, such a narrative is unhealthy for the Congress' prospects.

Amid the din, Shah managed to speak two more sentences: “Who are to trying to save?…you are trying to save Bangladeshis”.  Shah made his point: at least in terms of building public narrative for his party.

Later, Shah tweeted:

The way the entire debate in both Houses of Parliament was shaped by the Opposition gave one the sense that it is trying to give a communal colour to this Supreme Court-mandated exercise. West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee, who on Monday said that she was ready to offer shelter to over 40 lakh “illegal” residents of Assam in West Bengal, on Tuesday claimed the NRC would unleash a “civil war” in the country. Her contention: The BJP is doing it with an eye on the next election. Incidentally, Mamata is in Delhi.

Minutes after her speech, Shah addressed a press conference, and said Mamata needed to enhance her general knowledge. The BJP never changed its position on illegal Bangladeshi immigrants, he added. The BJP demanded their identification and disenfranchisement when in Opposition and maintains same stand when it is in power today, he further said.

The NRC has sharpened conflict between Congress, its partners and the ruling BJP. The problem for the Opposition is that it has, so far, been unable to come out with a coherent argument against the Assam NRC which was mandated by the Supreme Court.


Updated Date: Jul 31, 2018 20:09 PM

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