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As has become the pattern since the general elections, the Biju Janata Dal (BJD) supported yet another Bill – the contentious Citizenship (Amendment) Bill (CAB) this time – moved by the NDA government in parliament on Monday. While the support of the BJD in the Lok Sabha doesn’t amount to much in view of the NDA’s brute majority in the lower House, it’s in the Rajya Sabha that the NDA would really need the backing of the regional party. The BJD has seven members in the upper House.
Such has been the unstinted support offered by the BJD to the central government led by the BJP – with which it fought a bitter election only months ago – that it has stopped raising eyebrows in Odisha. Its support to NDA on all issues, including some opposed by members of the ruling coalition, is now taken for granted, though the Congress did reiterate its customary charge of a ‘deal’ between the two sides after it backed the CAB in the Lok Sabha.
“The BJD has surrendered to the BJP fearing a revival of the CBI investigation into the multi-thousand crore chit fund scam,” Pradesh Congress Committee (PCC) chief Niranjan Patnaik told media persons after the Bill was passed in the Lok Sabha on Monday. He also pointed to the fact that three BJD members listed to speak during the debate on the state of the economy of the nation remained absent when the upper House debated the issue on October 26 as yet another instance of the BJD-BJP bonhomie.
The BJP, however, did make a concession to its steadfast non-NDA ally to secure its support ahead of the introduction of the CAB in parliament when it withdrew its candidate for membership of the managing committee of AIIMS, Bhubaneswar to ensure a win for BJD candidate Amar Patnaik. Curiously, the BJP had fielded Ashwini Vaishaw, who was elected to the Rajya Sabha with the backing of the BJD in June, barely days after the general elections, despite the fact that it had the numbers to win the seat hands down, for the membership of the committee.
The BJD’s support to Vaishnaw was the first sign after the elections that the friends turned foes had decided to bury the hatchet and become friends again. This impression deepened further when the BJD backed every single Bill moved by the NDA in the eventful monsoon session of parliament, including some it had opposed earlier. Significantly, the regional party had also opposed the CAB in the Joint Parliamentary Committee before it lapsed at the end of the previous Lok Sabha.
In a face saving measure, the BJD did seek three amendments to the Bill in the Lok Sabha on Monday. But two of three amendments it has sought don’t really mean much. It has demanded the delinking of CAB from the NRC, something that Home minister Amit Shah has already made clear. Its demand that the Union government should clear the misgivings and apprehensions in the minds of Muslims over the Bill is in the realm of the intangible. The party’s third demand – inclusion of Sri Lanka in the list of nations whose religiously persecuted non-Muslim minorities are to be given Indian citizenship under the Bill – should not be too difficult to grant.
While the two parties are on the same page on every issue in Parliament, this has made it extremely difficult for their local leaders to defend the stand of their respective parties on various issues because technically the BJP is the principal Opposition party in the state Assembly while the BJD is an opposition party in the parliament.
“The leadership of the two parties should formally announce the revival of their alliance to save us from this embarrassment,” said an exasperated BJP leader requesting anonymity.