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Congress dares Modi to public debate

There has been no meeting ground of the ruling side and the Opposition on the issue
Congress spokesperson and former home minister P. Chidambaram

Our Special Correspondent   |   New Delhi   |   Published 13.01.20, 09:55 PM

The Congress has dared Prime Minister Narendra Modi to answer questions on the new citizenship regime at a public forum to clear the doubts in people’s minds instead of delivering sermons from “high platforms”.

“PM is not talking to his critics. The critics do not have an opportunity to talk to the PM. The only way out is for the PM to select five of his most articulate critics and have a televised question-and-answer session with them,” Congress spokesperson and former home minister P. Chidambaram tweeted on Monday.

“Let the people listen to the discussion and reach their conclusions on CAA. I sincerely hope PM will respond favourably to this suggestion.”

Chidambaram went on: “PM talks from high platforms to silent audiences and does not take questions. We talk through the media and are willing to take questions from media persons.

“PM says that CAA is meant to give citizenship, not take it away. Many of us believe that CAA (in conjunction with NPR or NRC) will declare many persons as ‘non-citizens’ and take away citizenship.”

Supporting Chidambaram’s challenge, another Congress spokesperson, Abhishek Singhvi, tweeted: “I don’t even mind if the Prime Minister nominated someone, maybe Amit Shah or even someone as articulate as Arif Mohammed Khan, to make a three-member answering panel headed by him so that the confusion for people is cleared.”

Although Parliament had debated the amendment to the citizenship law, there was no meeting ground as the ruling side and the Opposition had disagreed violently.

The Opposition had argued that the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill (now Act) would, in combination with the National Register of Citizens, allow the government to victimise Muslims who fail to show documents dating back from whatever cut-off date is fixed for the NRC exercise.

Home minister Amit Shah had asserted in Parliament that the NRC would be implemented but Modi later tried to wriggle out of a corner by declaring at a rally in Delhi that his government hadn’t ever discussed the NRC. He accused the Opposition of spreading rumours and panic.

Both Modi and Shah had, however, emphatically talked about an NRC exercise several times before.

Faced with the protests, the government quickly cleared a National Population Register update while highlighting that the exercise had started under Congress rule in 2010.

However, the additional questions in the current edition’s format have enraged the Opposition, which views the latest NPR as an NRC in disguise.

Modi has since then, much as he had done during the demonetisation debate, offered several justifications for the citizenship amendment, the latest being the oppression of minorities in Pakistan. He has also repeatedly accused the Opposition of lying about the new citizenship act.

Against this background, the Congress believes that if the Prime Minister answers questions at a public platform, it would help ordinary people grasp the new legislation’s implications better.

But Congress leaders are convinced that the government would not accept the challenge because an open debate will expose its agenda of isolating Muslims.

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