Politics amid pandemic: Modi govt’s haste to grant citizenship to non-Muslim foreigners raises speculation

Mafazah Sharafuddin
May 30, 2021

While still suffering through the deadly second wave of the pandemic, the Ministry of Home Affairs gave the go ahead to the authorities in 13 districts to grant citizenship to non-Muslim applicants from Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh under the existing rules. The authorities are to review, verify and grant citizenship based on the Citizenship Act 1955 and the Citizenship Rules 2009. 

Districts within Gujarat, Chhattisgarh, Rajasthan, Haryana and Punjab have been given the power to grant citizenship to minorities from aforementioned neighboring countries. This group of minorities is Hindus, Jains, Buddhists, Sikhs, Parsis and Christians. 

It is baffling why the government would make this move while the rules of the Citizenship Amendment Act of 2019 is still not concrete. They plan to continue the discussion while the other applicants get granted citizenship in these 13 districts. In May, the PM Narendra Modi led government sought more time, citing COVID as the reason why they are yet to give a concrete set of rules. While the rules of a law are customarily notified within 6 months, the CAA continues this way 18 months later. 

There are several reasons why this decision should be scrutinized. 

Firstly, the country is going through a massive catastrophe. Arguably the worst catastrophe India has suffered as an independent nation. It is no secret that amidst the pandemic, there is a massive health crisis, coinciding with a financial crisis. 

The public are suffering under abrupt and improperly done lockdowns, crises for oxygen, hospital beds, medicines, etc. There has been a huge wave of unemployment. Daily wage workers have been devastated financially by the lockdowns. There has been a death toll of over 3.2 lakhs. The bodies of the people who passed away are piling up, with not enough staff or area to properly deal with them. 

What the government prioritizes truly shines through after this new development. The public call for help and proper administration over social media and via various social worker groups, those pleas have seen no answer. At the same time, the enactment of the Citizenship Act is not only unnecessary, but is also likely to cause people to congregate for verification.

Not just that, but the CAA garners attention. Whether it is positive or negative, the CAA garners the attention of the people. The government, as of now, is desperately fielding questions about the underreporting of COVID deaths, future plans, vaccinations and accusations of inefficient handling of the Coronavirus crisis. It almost seems too opportune a moment for something like this to take the limelight. 

In addition to this, the vaccination drive is far from being complete. While Home Minister Amit Shah, earlier this year, said that the CAA rules will be framed after the vaccination drive is complete, the vaccination drive seems to have gone completely off track. The numbers projected and the numbers implemented differ greatly. With this in mind, it seems precarious to begin implementation of the Citizenship Act at this stage. 

The Citizenship Amendment Act 2019 was met with protests all over India. People claimed the act was unconstitutional and discriminatory. There was a huge opposition to the act, with students throughout the country taking to the streets and protesting. The protests continued till early 2020, and only ended once the pandemic made it impossible to continue. The dispersal of Shahin Bagh was somber moment for activists and sympathizers all over India.

Now, as the issue begins to brew again, the public are faced with an impossible situation. Much like in Lakshadweep, where legislations are being passed against the will of the people while they can’t take to the streets, all of India are stuck on the sidelines. 

The CAA protesters not only took to the streets, but made an active effort to spread the information needed to have an informed opinion on the issue. Prolific newspapers like The Hindu were constantly posting editorials and opinion pieces speaking against the CAA. It was a unifying protest. 

At this moment, people are unable to take to the streets. For anyone who has social responsibility, a protest of the like of those that took place at the end of 2019 and the beginning of 2020 would be impossible. Even if the CAA issue rises once more, the people are confined to media houses and social media to give their opinions. 

While this does send a message, it does not actively disrupt the comfort of the authorities. It seems curious to make this move during the heat of the second wave of the pandemic. 

There are no coincidences in politics. 

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News Network
June 14,2021

New  Delhi, June 14: Five of the six Lok Janshakti Party MPs in Lok Sabha have joined hands against their leader Chirag Paswan and elected Pashupati Kumar Paras, the youngest brother of Paswan's late father and party founder Ram Vilas Paswan, in his place, causing a big churn in Bihar politics.

Paras on Monday lauded Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar as a good leader and "vikas purush" (development-oriented man), highlighting the deep fault lines within the party as his nephew has been a strong critic of the supreme JD(U) leader.

"I have not broken the party but saved it," Paras, the MP from Hajipur, told reporters.

He asserted that 99 per cent of LJP workers were unhappy with the turn of events in Bihar as Paswan led his party against the JD(U) and it fared poorly in the 2020 assembly polls.

The LJP has been on the brink of collapse, he said in reference to its poor show in the polls, and lashed out at "anti-social" elements in the party, an apparent pointer to a close aide of Paswan whose proximity to him has not gone down well with many party leaders.

Paras said his group will continue to be part of the BJP-led NDA, and added that Paswan can remain in the organisation.

The group of five MPs has conveyed their decision of electing Paras as the LJP's leader in Lok Sabha to the Speaker.

The five MPs had met Speaker Om Birla on Sunday night to inform him about their decision to replace Paswan with Paras as their leader.

Sources in the Speaker's office said that their request is under consideration

There has been no comment from Paswan on the issue.

Soon after Paras spoke to reporters, Paswan drove to his uncle's residence in the national capital to meet him. Paswan's cousin and MP Prince Raj also stays there.

Paswan, who has not been keeping well for some time, waited for over 20 minutes in his car before he was let into the house and then left after spending more than an hour inside.

He left without saying a word to waiting media persons.

It is believed that neither of the two rebel MPs met him. A household help said the two were not at home when the LJP chief arrived.

Paras had long been unhappy with Paswan's style of functioning and was joined by other MPs, including Chandan Singh, Veena Devi and Mehboob Ali Kaiser, as they believed that his campaign against Nitish Kumar had left them at a disadvantage in the state's politics.

Kaiser has been elected the party's deputy leader.

The group is also likely to stake claim in the Election Commission to represent the real LJP with its president now left isolated at the top after taking on the mantle following his father's death last year.

It may move to oust Paswan from the top party post in the coming days.

Sources close to him have blamed the JD(U) for the split, saying the party had long been working to isolate the LJP president after his decision to go all out against Chief Minister Kumar in the 2020 assembly polls.

The JD(U), which was for the first time reduced to the status of a junior partner to the BJP after it lost more than 35 seats due to the presence of LJP candidates, has been seething and had worked to woo over a number of LJP's organisational leaders to its fold. The lone LJP MLA joined the JD(U).

Paras denied the charge that Kumar's party had a role in the split.

The BJP, which has its share of pro-Paswan voices as well as his critics, maintained a silence over the matter, with some party leaders noting that it was an internal matter of the party.

Though he had left the ruling NDA in Bihar to fight independently in the assembly polls, he has maintained a strong pro-BJP and pro-Prime Minister Narendra Modi stand.

With buzz growing about a reshuffle in the Union cabinet, political watchers believe that the development is aimed at thwarting Paswan's chances to join the government but it remains to be seen as to how the saffron party sees the implosion in the LJP.

As such, the equation between the BJP and the JD(U) has been far from smooth despite both parties sharing power in Bihar, and Kumar has been taking various measures to bolster his party's strength after suffering a setback in the assembly polls.

Paras is seen as more pro-Nitish Kumar than pro-BJP, and Paswan's complete marginalisation is not something many BJP leaders will wish even though a section of the party has been miffed with his conduct, sources said.

That not a single MP, all of whom owe their current position to Ram Vilas Paswan, has stood by Chirag Paswan reflects poorly on him, they added.

What will also be a key aspect, while going ahead, is as to how core LJP voters, mostly members of Paswan community, react to the development. 

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June 1,2021

Bengaluru, June 1: BJP MLA Basanagouda Patil Yatnal, for long at loggerheads with Chief Minister B S Yediyurappa over a host of issues, on Tuesday hit out at his son and party state vice president B Y Vijayendra' visit to Delhi, alleging that he was "running the government in Karnataka."

He said Yediyurappa himself should have left for the national capital and not his son, who left for Delhi on Tuesday, as he has no role to play since it pertains to government matters. "This shows that this is not Yediyurappa's government, but that of Vijayendra.

That's why we oppose this government," Yatnal told reporters. Yatnal claimed the Central leadership had sought reports on a few issues including the proposal to sell land to JSW Group in Ballari region and Covid-19 management, over which they were unhappy. "Our high command has taken a serious view of giving away 3,666 acres of land at Rs 1.2 lakh per acre. Also, the Centre is not happy with the Covid-19 management," he said.

Though the proposal to sell the land to JSW Group was on the agenda in the recent Cabinet meeting, it was dropped owing to protests from from both within the government and outside. About a month ago Vijayendra had gone to Delhi with Home Minister Basavaraj Bommai, triggering speculations of a possible change of leadership.

There were rumours that the Centre wanted Bommai to replace Yediyurappa as the BJP high command was not happy with the functioning of the government. Bommai had dismissed all such rumours as false. Recently, speculations were again rife when Revenue Minister R Ashoka conceded that some MLAs and ministers have been organising meetings to effect a change in leadership.

There were allegations that Tourism Minister C P Yogeeshwar was at the centre of the 'conspiracy', but he has remained silent on the issue Many ministers and MLAs loyal to Yediyurappa have demanded the removal of Yogeeshwar. Yatnal, however, said no one can remove the minister as the Yediyurappa government would not survive.

"The Yediyurappa government will not survive if Yogeeshwar is removed. Yogeeshwar can even come back with the Energy portfolio," Yatnal added. The Vijayapura MLA has for long been at loggerheads with Yediyurappa and Vijayendra over scores of issues and even demanded that the Central leadership "not encourage dynastic politics and corruption" in BJP's Karnataka unit, a reference to Vijayendra and his brother B Y Raghavendra, an MP from Shimoga constituency, allegedly running affairs of the state.

Meanwhile, BJP sources said Vijayendra's Delhi trip has nothing to do with state politics and it was for a function. "He has gone on a family trip to Delhi to attend a function. He is accompanied by his wife and others," a BJP leader said.

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June 13,2021

Bengaluru, June 13: More than 1.5 lakh employees in shopping malls across Karnataka have become jobless due to lockdowns and restrictions over the past year and owners have incurred losses in crores of rupees. Mall owners have urged the government to allow them to reopen by June 21 to help them stem the tide.

Mukesh Kumar, chairman, Shopping Centres Association of India (SCAI) & CEO, Infiniti Malls, said for every person directly employed with malls, on an average, three others are indirectly employed, providing logistics and support.

“In such a scenario, at least 1.5 lakh people have lost their jobs in the state,” Kumar said during a press conference in Bengaluru on Friday. “Though around 50,000 of them were reemployed after malls reopened for a brief time, many were laid off during the second lockdown,” he said. He said over 50% of malls, a majority of them standalone ventures, will close down if no support is provided.

Sunil Munshi, AVP operations, Orion Malls, said almost 80% of employees working in malls, shops, restaurants and service sectors come from economically weaker sections.

Kumar said a moratorium extended by RBI last year ended in March and they now have nothing to fall back on. “There has hardly been any revenue for a retailer or the mall. The past few months have been so stressful that we don’t know how to cope,” he said.

He said on average, revenue from retail in malls in the state is Rs 2,000 crore per month. They pay Rs 350 crore GST. Due to lockdowns, retails have incurred losses of Rs 20,000 to 25,000 crore and governments have suffered GST loss of Rs 3,000 crore. “Malls have lost 15% of the revenue generated by retailers,” Kumar said.

Kumar said pre-Covid estimates show that across India, 1,000 malls generate monthly revenue of Rs 12,000-Rs 15,000 crore. The whole ecosystem has suffered almost Rs 1 lakh crore losses.

Najeeb Kunil, CEO, PPZ Mall Development & Management Services Co said they have urged the state government to provide waivers around rental / lease, electricity charges, upcoming renewals of existing permits / licenses / NOCs among others. They have also sought waiver of property taxes payment till January 2022 and support around minimum wages rates and guard-board payments until FY 2021-22.

He also feared a downstream effect hitting smallscale industries and small businesses which have no income with shopping malls shut. “The sooner they take a call and heed our requests, the better it will be for everyone in the ecosystem, not just the developers,” he said.

SCAI members said that the solution lies in reopening the shopping malls as soon as possible. Kunil said vaccination is a major solution. “We hope to be back to 90% of footfall by October,” he said.

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