NAGPUR, Maharashtra — The Shiv Sena’s decision to support the controversial Citizenship (Amendment) Bill in Lok Sabha, and a “half U-Turn” in Rajya Sabha, where the party walked out before the vote, has exposed fault lines within the Maha Vikas Aghadi, the three-way coalition of the Sena, the Congress and the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) currently in power in Maharashtra.
The bill, which was passed by the Rajya Sabha on December 11, offers citizenship to so-called persecuted religious minorities from Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan — with the exception of Muslims.
While Congress leader, and former president, Rahul Gandhi had clearly stated that those supporting the bill were “attempting to destroy the foundation of our nation,″ the Shiv Sena’s flip-flop has raised questions on how long the unwieldy three-way coalition will last.
Shiv Sena chief, and Maharashtra chief minister Uddhav Thackeray attempted to hedge his bets by telling reporters in Mumbai that his party won’t support the bill as long as Shiv Sena’s questions are not answered. But Shiv Sena’s walkout from Rajya Sabha over the bill did not really go down well with the Congress, as the Sena’s absence ended up helping the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government.
Many Congress leaders from Maharashtra were quick to slam Shiv Sena over its move in Rajya Sabha which, they believed, ended up helping the BJP.
A Shiv Sena MLC admitted that his party was caught in a tight spot over the issue.
“The cabinet expansion and portfolio allocation are still being worked in Maharashtra and the internal tussle over key portfolios is there for everyone to see. This CAB matter could not have come at the wrong time than this. We could not be seen supporting the BJP on the issue but we could also not be seen buckling under Congress’s pressure. It’s a tightrope walk and we are gonna have to walk it for the next five years,” the Shiv Sena MLC told HuffPost India.
The dilemma was clear when Shiv Sena spokesperson and Rajya Sabha MP Sanjay Raut gave a short interview to a Marathi news channel in Mumbai.
“For the last few days, some people were trying to teach us nationalism and Hindutva. To accept Hindutva doesn’t mean to be BJP’s slaves,” Raut told told Zee 24 Taas. “Similarly, those who have accepted secularism don’t need to be slaves of Congress. And who is going to decide if those favouring the CAB are patriots and those opposing it are traitors?”
The Shiv Sena has sought to differentiate itself from the BJP’s position by questioning why Tamil Hindus in Sri Lanka were left out of the bill — thereby implicitly accepting the logic of the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, while questioning its scope.
But Raut maintained that the issue would have no impact on his party-led government in Maharashtra.
“Not at all. This entire subject has no relation to the state or state government. State’s subjects are different and the Centre’s are different,” he said when asked if Shiv Sena changed its stance as it was affecting its state government in Maharashtra.
He also denied that Congress was pressurising Shiv Sena over the issue.
“No one can pressurise Shiv Sena. Even while being with BJP, we were openly airing our views. We are not with the UPA now, we are not UPA’s members. Our Maharashtra government is being run on the common minimum program and not on some religious issue which is why it will complete its full term,” Raut told Zee 24 Taas.