DMK has accused the AIADMK of ‘betraying’ the Sri Lankan Tamils.
New Delhi: The Opposition Congress in Kerala and the ruling All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam in neighbouring Tamil Nadu are at the receiving end on the contentious Citizenship (Amendment) Bill (now an Act) for diverse reasons. The Congress’ Leader of the Opposition in Kerala, Ramesh Chennithala is under attack from no less than the president of the Kerala Pradesh Congress Committee, Mullappally Ramachandran for joining hands with sworn enemy CPM to protest against the Bill. The AIADMK, on the other hand, is being accused of betraying the cause of Sri Lankan Tamils, an emotive issue for the Dravidian parties, by ensuring the passage of the Bill in the Rajya Sabha.
When AIADMK decided to support the Bill, it was in a way giving up on the long-standing demand of over one lakh Lankan refugees living in over 100 refugee camps in the state for over three decades. For, the new law has provision for giving Indian citizenship only to “persecuted minorities” from Muslim dominated countries of Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh. The Opposition Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam is fully capitalising on the issue, much to the embarrassment of the AIADMK leadership. Claiming that the Bill could not have been passed in the Rajya Sabha had AIADMK voted against it, DMK chief M.K. Stalin said, “This party played a major role in leading this country into chaos. India is burning now, and AIADMK is the reason.” He said if the BJP was “least bothered” about the cause of Lankan Tamil refugees, now the AIADMK has turned its back towards them. The AIADMK has 11 members in the Rajya Sabha and their support was crucial for the passage of the Bill. Party founder MGR (Ramachandran) and Jayalalithaa were vocal in their support to Lankan refugees in their lifetime and AIADMK’s turnaround could cost the party dearly in the 2021 Assembly elections.
In Kerala, though Congress leader Chennithala took the decision to hold a joint protest with the ruling CPM at the spur of the moment, Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan grabbed the opportunity with an eye on future elections. What angered a section of the state Congress leadership was Chennithala’s decision to sit in dharna with Pinarayi at the Martyr’s Column in Palyam, Thiruvananthapuram, where a temple, a mosque and a church stand side by side within a square kilometre. In fact, Chennithala took the decision at function where Opposition had released a White Paper on the “mismanagement” of the economy by the Left Front government and extravagant spending, including foreign trips by the Chief Minister, ministers and their families, in times of financial distress.
The Congress was planning to go to the people with the White Paper and launch a bigger agitation against the government. Congress leaders, cutting across groups, were quick to condemn Chennithala’s decision. “The Congress had called for a broad coalition of secular forces against the BJP before the 2019 general elections. It was the CPM and Pinarayi Vijayan who scuttled such a move. Then how can we go and share the podium with Pinarayi,” a senior leader was quoted as saying.
The absence of KPCC president Mullappally Ramachandran from the protest on 16 December was a clear indication that Chennithala did not have the support of the party. “Congress is the only party that has been strongly opposing fascist forces at the national level,” Mullappally had said. “All this while the CPM in Kerala was running away from the battles the Congress was waging against the fascists,” he added. Among the UDF partners, RSP stayed away, thereby losing the services of a good parliamentarian like N.K. Premachandran. “We should not have taken part in a protest led by the CPM,” Congress MP Kodikkunnil Suresh said. The lone prominent leader who came in support of Chennithala was former Chief Minister Oommen Chandy. Brushing aside Ramachandran’s objections, Chandy said, “By joining hands with CPM, Congress in Kerala has set a good example for the nation.”
Both Chennithala and Pinarayi had political compulsions to share the podium. Foremost, the Muslim League, a partner in the UDF, had fears that fundamentalist elements within the community would hijack the protest against the Act. Some Muslin organisations had indeed called for a day-long shutdown in Kerala on 17 December. It was necessary for LDF and UDF to thwart their move and keep the majority of the Muslim folk with them. It was a matter of being relevant in state politics where the minority community’s vote counts. CPM saw in it as a recognition of Pinarayi Vijayan’s supremacy in state politics.
All these past three years, Congress has been equating Vijayan with the Prime Minister, calling him authoritarian and a “dhoti-clad Modi”. On the other hand, Congress and UDF could not allow Pinarayi to walk away with all the credit of protecting the minorities and standing up against the BJP government at the Centre. Pinarayi had already proclaimed that he would not allow CAA and NRC in Kerala. Had Chennithala not taken such a decision to organise a joint protest with the CPM, the Congress, which is spearheading the agitation in the North, would have been left behind in Kerala. Not a good proposition with the state Assembly elections just a year away.