The Kerala Left Front government continues its defiant posture against the new Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) and is now planning to step up its agitation against the Centre in this regard. After staging a “satyagraha” with arch rival Congress against the Act in the state capital, Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan has convened a joint conference of all political parties and leaders of socio-religious organisations on Sunday to discuss the necessity for a joint action “reflecting the popular concerns of the people with regard to the CAA”. In a letter to various political parties and organisations, Vijayan said the CAA that decided citizenship on the basis of religion was against the Right to Equality as enshrined in the Constitution of the country. Congress has announced its decision to attend the meeting. But it is not known at this stage whether the party would join any Left Front-sponsored agitation in the state since there had been criticism within the party over sharing the dais with Pinarayi Vijayan during the sit-in on 16 December. It is also not known whether Vijayan’s invitation extended to BJP too. Though state BJP leaders individually have been coming out with statements against the Left Front decision, the state party is yet to organise a pro-CAA rally in the state. In fact, the party has been inactive after its disastrous show in the general elections and has been without a president since October. Vijayan, along with West Bengal’s Mamata Banerjee and Punjab’s Captain Amarinder Singh, was among the first chief ministers to declare that his government would not enforce the new law. “What is being staged was a conspiracy to destroy democracy and equality, and establish autocracy and divide the country on the basis of religion…Kerala will not implement it,” Vijayan had said. Immediately after that, the Chief Minister had also announced that his government would not cooperate with the Centre in conducting census for the National Population Register (NPR) in the state.
From the political point of view, it may be possible for the Left Front to oppose NPR, but cannot be said so from the judicial or administrative angle. The state government, municipalities and panchayats are duty bound to help in the census process. The ruling government is keeping off such a process purely on political grounds, saying NPR is, in fact, a precursor to the not yet formulated, but has already become controversial, National Register of Citizens (NRC). But without the state government’s help it will not be possible for the Centre to conduct a population census. Though the census directors in the states are Central government employees, it is the state employees who conduct door-to-door verification of denizens. If the state government refuses to release its employees for enumeration, then the census process will be halted. Some BJP leaders, though somewhat in a threatening mode, have pointed out that in such a scenario, the state may stand to lose Central doles and benefits, rationing of grains and other edibles through public distribution systems. It is correct that census is the barometer that decides the quantum of such assistance per state. But now most of the individual benefits are routed through Aadhaar cards. So, how the Centre can browbeat state governments in carrying out census in the present political condition prevalent in the country is to be seen. The Centre can point out that not all the states that oppose NRC have taken such a stand on NPR. In the event other Opposition-ruled states, too, oppose NPR, the Left Front in Kerala will only harden its stand. Most of the state government employees’ unions, including those of teachers who are generally roped in for census work, are controlled by the Left and Congress. The BJP has no presence here. Hence, there is no question of any political opposition on this front.
A correct population census is important for any country’s development. For that, the states should facilitate such a process. But here the contention is about linking NPR with NCR. The Central government is still not able to convince many Opposition-ruled states about its intentions. Now it is reported that the AIADMK, which had supported the CAA in Parliament, is planning to stop work on NPR in Tamil Nadu. Take the case of Kerala itself. The decision to oppose NPR came much later. Even while vehemently opposing both CAA and NRC, the state government had, to the surprise of many, given the green light for updating the NPR in Kerala. The Principal Secretary (General Administration Department) Kerala had published a notification issued by the Registrar General and the Census Commissioner of India regarding the updating of the NPR in connection with the 2021 census. It was when Congress’s leader of the Opposition termed it as “double standards” of the Left Front government on such a sensitive issue, the chief minister’s office (CMO) came out with a clarification. The CMO then said that the government will not cooperate in any manner with the proceedings to update NPR, which will become the base for the NRC, in view of the concerns that have been raised after the passing of the CAA 2019. The CMO further clarified that the government had taken this step as “the Act deviated from constitutional values and was under the consideration of the Supreme Court”. More important, the government has been able to gain the support of the Opposition and the public in this sensitive issue.