Amid protests against the new citizenship law, leaders of 12 Opposition parties led by Congress president Sonia Gandhi met President Ram Nath Kovind Tuesday and requested him to intervene and advise the government to immediately repeal the Act.
Arguing that the ‘unconstitutional’ and ‘divisive’ Act was passed with ‘undue haste’, they told the President that the ‘widespread protests’ echo the ‘fear’ that has spread among people.
The Opposition leaders told the President that the ‘government’s divide and rule policy and its blatantly divisive agenda has disturbed peace and harmony’.
In their memorandum to the President, the leaders referred to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s remarks in Jharkhand that those behind the violence could be ‘identified from their clothes’ and said: ‘The Prime Minister, instead of appealing for calm, made a comment, which is inconsistent with the status of the office he holds…By any standard, this brand of politics is unjustified. If persons holding the highest offices in the country seek to, through their statements, serve narrow sectarian interests, it would dismantle the constitutional edifice that has been so carefully built since Independence.’
The leaders implored the President to ‘safeguard’ the Constitution ‘from being violated’ and ensure that the ‘federal structure is not disturbed by the Government…by abusing state power’.
Referring to the police action in Jamia Millia Islamia, the leaders told the President that ‘if the legitimate constitutional right to protest is sought to be muzzled in the fashion, our democracy will be destroyed’.
At the same time, they urged the President to ask the government to set up a commission of inquiry to ‘ensure that all those guilty of perpetuating violence in whatever form be brought to book’.
‘Legitimate dissent is at the heart of democracy. So are peaceful protests. While there may be miscreants and anti-social elements who may be responsible for isolated acts of vandalism, the entire student community must not be held responsible and be targeted,’ it said.
Among those met the President include Leader of the Opposition in Rajya Sabha Ghulam Nabi Azad, Congress leaders Ahmed Patel, A K Antony, Anand Sharma and Kapil Sibal, TMC’s Derek O’Brien, CPM’s Sitaram Yechury, CPI’s D Raja, DMK’s T R Baalu, SP’s Ram Gopal Yadav and Javed Ali Khan, JLS’s Sharad Yadav, RJD’s Manoj K Jha, IUML’s E T Mohd Basheer and representatives of the National Conference, AIUDF and RSP.
‘We are anguished at the manner in which the police has dealt with peaceful demonstrations. We have the example in Delhi where the police entered the Jamia women’s hostel and dragged women students out. It mercilessly beat other students not only here in Delhi who were demonstrating which is their democratic right as is ours’, Sonia Gandhi told reporters.
‘The BJP government, the Modi government, seems to have no compunction when it comes to shutting down people’s voice and implementing legislations which do not seem to be acceptable to the people and to us in a democracy,’ she said.
O’Brien said the Opposition has asked the President to advise the government to withdraw the ‘diabolical and divisive Act’. Yechury said they told Kovind that he ‘cannot allow his government to violate the Constitution… in such a brazen manner’ since he is its custodian.
Ram Gopal Yadav said the Act, along with the plan to conduct a nationwide NRC, has created fear. ‘When people feel terrorised and when the government does not listen to them, how bad the consequences can be, you all know and we have seen that in history. They have cut off the North-East. That is what Pakistan and other neighbouring countries want…we have divided their country…and they want to dismember us…our government has given an opportunity to them,’ he said.
Azad referred to the Internet shutdown and other restrictions, and said that what happened in Kashmir is now being repeated across the country. ‘The entire country is being turned into a police state,’ he said.
Raja said, ‘The President is also the chancellor of many central universities…so we appealed to the President that he must intervene and stop the brutal attacks on our students…whether it is Jamia or some other universities…why should our students be attacked like this?’
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