Indian opposition parties join forces to fight controversial citizenship law

Supporters of India's main opposition Congress party shout slogans during a protest rally against a new citizenship law, in Kochi, India. (Reuters)
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Updated 14 January 2020

Indian opposition parties join forces to fight controversial citizenship law

  • New religion-based legislation blamed for ‘unprecedented turmoil,’ violent protests throughout country
  • Indian states ruled by opposition parties refuse to implement laws they say discriminate against Muslims

NEW DELHI: India’s main opposition parties on Monday met to devise a joint strategy against the controversial new citizenship law which had brought “unprecedented turmoil” to the country.

The initiative for the united campaign was taken by the Congress party, the chief opposition group supporting a more secular India, which mobilized eight like-minded parties from different parts of the country.

Nationwide protests have been taking place for the last month against the Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi government-backed Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) that grants citizenship to Hindus, Sikhs, Parsis, Jains, Buddhists and Christians from neighboring Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan, but excludes Muslims.

Protesters see the legislation as discriminatory and anti-Muslim, attacking the basic secular preamble of the constitution.

Public anger has also been directed at the proposed National Register of Citizens (NRC), an exercise to identify genuine Indian citizens, which demonstrators fear would again alienate Muslims, India’s largest minority group.

Many university campuses and several cities across India have witnessed protests against the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) demanding the law be withdrawn.

For the opposition parties, popular resistance against the BJP would offer an opportunity to wrest political narrative from the Modi regime.

“The government has let loose the reign of oppression and is spreading hatred in order to divide people along sectarian lines,” said Congress president Sonia Gandhi addressing the opposition meeting. “There’s an unprecedented turmoil. The constitution is being undermined and instruments of governance being misused.”

She added: “The real issue facing India today is the collapse of economic activity and slowing growth and development affecting all sections of society, especially the poor and disadvantaged.

“The prime minister and home (affairs) minister have no answers and want to divert the nation’s attention from this grim reality by raising one divisive and polarizing issue after another.”

Modi however blamed the opposition for inciting protests.

“Questions regarding this (CAA) have been slowly implanted in the minds of the youths by people. The youths are, by and large, alert. But there are some who have fallen prey to these misconceptions and rumors,” said the PM in Kolkata on Sunday.

Minister of Home Affairs Amit Shah, Modi’s close aide, blamed the Congress for the crisis. “I am saying it loudly. You Congress leaders, listen carefully. Oppose it as much as you can … Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist and Christian refugees from Pakistan have as much right over India as you and I have.”

The BJP’s belligerence has not gone down well with some of its political allies with regional partner Janta Dal (United), in the crucial eastern state of Bihar, urging the BJP to rethink the CAA.

“There should be a debate on the CAA. If people want, then there will be a discussion in this house. As for the NRC, there is no question of the NRC and no justification for it,” said the BJP’s oldest ally Nitish Kumar, the chief minister of Bihar.

So far 11 opposition-ruled Indian states have announced that they would not implement the CAA and the NRC in their provinces.

Delhi-based political analyst, Nilanjan Mukhopadhyay, said: “The opposition is trying to find their own place in the spate of anti-government agitation that is going on. It is not only Muslims but other sections of society too that are on the streets.

“Protest is much beyond religion. It is the ordinary people who are agitating. Opposition parties want to tap this anger.”

Mukhopadhyay added: “This is the first ideological contestation of people against the BJP. People are saying that what you (the BJP) have done is not good for the country.

“The Congress party has finally decided to take a very clear ideological position. This is not individual but ideological contestation. The world view that the BJP has been projecting has been challenged for the first time at a popular level. It’s being questioned.”

Sri Lanka launches online portal for migrant workers amid virus scare

A municipal worker sprays disinfectant on an ambulance in Atulugama on March 29, 2020, after the town was sealed off by health authorities following fears that it could be a cluster for COVID-19 infection after two positive cases. (AFP)
Updated 31 min 29 sec ago

Sri Lanka launches online portal for migrant workers amid virus scare

  • Inquiries include the welfare of student populations, extension of visa permits, lack of financial support for the unemployed, non-payment of salaries, the closing down of commercial establishments and questions related to quarantine measures on arrival

COLOMBO: To help its overseas migrant workers deal with the coronavirus, Sri Lanka’s Ministry of Foreign Relations has launched an online portal where citizens can voice their concerns, officials said on Sunday.

“All Sri Lankans living abroad were invited to register voluntarily on the platform . . . allowing the government to reach out and provide assistance during emergencies such as the Covid-19 outbreak. This platform will allow the ministry to access real-time data for quick action,” an official from the foreign ministry said on Sunday.

Since its launch on March 26, the “Contact Sri Lanka” portal has seen 17,000 registrations, with several saying they want to return home as soon as possible.

“A bulk of the 700 inquiries received through the portal relate to the possibility of a return to the country,” excerpts from a statement released by the Ministry of Foreign Relations and made available to Arab News, read on Sunday.

Registration by residents in the country will also allow the ministry to propose concrete policy decisions in critical response situations, such as evacuation measures, depending on the number of emergency assistance requests generated, the statement said.

It added that establishment of the portal was based on a “call made by President Gotabaya Rajapaksa for coordinated efforts by all government stakeholders to fight the Covid-19 outbreak and to harness digital technology to prompt faster and more efficient service delivery.”

Deputy General Manager of the Sri Lanka Bureau of Foreign Employment (SLBFE) W. Leelaratne told Arab News that Sri Lankan employees, particularly at missions in the Middle East and Asia, would be working with host governments “to secure fair treatment and concessions for expatriate workers to the maximum extent possible.”

“This includes safeguarding the rights of the workers related to the payment of salaries and ensuring job security, ” he said.

Leelaratne said that due to the current global situation; the SLBFE has opened a 24/7 help desk for all migrant workers who could seek assistance by contacting the hotline.

Inquiries include the welfare of student populations, extension of visa permits, lack of financial support for the unemployed, non-payment of salaries, the closing down of commercial establishments and questions related to quarantine measures on arrival.

Dr. Anil Jasinghe, director general of Health Services, said that the number of coronavirus cases had risen to 110 with the detection of four new cases on Sunday.

Two of the four cases were arrivals from the south Indian city of Chennai, with Jasinghe saying that the government had requested all those flying in from Chennai to report to the nearest health facility for mandatory quarantine arrangements.

As an additional measure, the villages of Atulugama, Akurana and Kadayankulam have been placed under lockdown, while the districts of Colombo, Gampaha, Kalutara, Puttalam and Jaffna have been declared high-risk zones with a full-day curfew to continue in these areas until further notice.