(L-R) Sharad Pawar-Sonia Gandhi-Uddhav Thackeray
(L-R) Sharad Pawar-Sonia Gandhi-Uddhav Thackeray

Mumbai: The Shiv Sena's turnaround on the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill is a calculated move to avoid embarrassment to the Maha Vikas Aghadi, which only recently assumed power in Maharashtra. The Sena, which is sharing power with the Nationalist Congress Party and Congress, has changed its stand, after the Congress, in particular, expressed strong displeasure over its decision to vote in favour of the Citizenship Amendment Bill (CAB) in the Lok Sabha.

Shiv Sena insiders said Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray's announcement that his party's support in the Rajya Sabha should not be taken for granted is an attempt to keep the NCP and Congress in good humour and also ensure the survival of his fledgling government in the state. Both the Congress and NCP have been opposed to the CAB, with the Congress calling the Bill 'unconstitutional'.

Senior party leaders reminded the three parties about their common minimum programme, released on November 28, in which the trio had agreed to set aside contentious issues and take a joint view, after consultation and consensus-building.

Thackeray said the party had raised many questions on Monday and if these were not answered satisfactorily, the Shiv Sena would not support the CAB in the Rajya Sabha. Shiv Sena MP and spokesperson Sanjay Raut made a similar statement in New Delhi. The government will present the CAB on Wednesday and seek its passage in the Upper House after debate.

Congress MP Rahul Gandhi said, ''The CAB is an attack on the Indian Constitution. Anyone who supports it is attacking and attempting to destroy the foundation of our nation.'' Another party MP, Hussain Dalwai, opined, the Shiv Sena should have walked out of the House or abstained from voting.

However, CM Thackeray said," We will not support the bill unless there is more clarity. They (government) should make changes when they bring the bill to the Rajya Sabha." Further, he said, ''We need to change the perception that those who support the bill and the BJP are patriots, while those who oppose it are anti-national. The government should answer all the issues raised by the bill."

Thackeray argued that the party had, on Monday, voted in support of the CAB, in order to assimilate people facing brutality in other countries "but we have asked many questions".

Raut said, "We may not vote the same way we did in the Lok Sabha, it is an evolving situation." He reminded that the Shiv Sena has demanded that non-Muslim refugees from Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh, who will become Indian citizens, should not be given voting rights for 25 years. The Centre needs to tell Parliament where these non-Muslim refugees will be rehabilitated.

Raut tweeted, "Nothing is permanent in politics. It's an ongoing process."

Earlier, Shiv Sena MP Arvind Sawant said, “Alag alag bhumika hoti kya humari? Rashtra ke hith ki bhumika lekar Shiv Sena khadi rehti hain, yeh kisiki monopoly nahi hai (Should we have taken a different stand? When it is about the nation’s interest, the Shiv Sena stands strong. This is not any single party’s monopoly).” He stated that the party had voted for the CAB in the larger interest of the country. He clarified that the common minimum programme is for Maharashtra, where the Sena has joined hands with the NCP and Congress to form the government.

Meanwhile, the leader of the opposition in the state assembly, Devendra Fadnavis, criticised the Sena for its flip-flop on the CAB. He observed that the Sena should not change its stand under pressure from the Congress.

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