Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan has been at the forefront of opposition to the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), which grants citizenship to non-Muslim refugees from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan.
Kerala is the first state to have passed a resolution in the Assembly demanding the repeal of CAA, which was passed by the Parliament last month. According to the resolution, the amended law will impact the nation’s secular nature and have far-reaching consequences. Vijayan also wrote to chief ministers of 11 states, urging them to stand united and to "consider similar steps so that it will be an eye-opener to the proponents of the CAA and NRC."
Vijayan spoke to Preetha Nair on exploring all possible avenues -- including legal ones to repeal the CAA-NRC-NPR combine. Excerpts:
Kerala is the first state to pass a resolution against the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA). Is it a mere political statement or more than that? How will you interpret the resolution?
The Kerala Legislative Assembly has passed a resolution demanding the Central Government to repeal the Citizenship Amendment Act 2019. Constitutionally, a State Assembly can do so.
Union law minister Ravi Shankar Prasad has strongly reacted to the resolution and termed it as 'unconstitutional move'. He says that a state has no power to go against a central law, which comes under the 7th Schedule of the Constitution. What's the state government's stand on this?
Is he saying that a State Assembly cannot pass a resolution, on an issue that it deems fit, which is well within its constitutional powers? It's a rather fallacious statement, coming from the Law Minister; the irony is too obvious! Also, he should ask his party's representative in the Kerala Legislative Assembly, as to why he did not vote against the resolution which he deems to be an 'unconstitutional move'.
BJP MP GVL Narasimha Rao has sought contempt proceedings against you. Now that it's snowballed into a showdown between the state and the Centre, how are you going to counter the BJP government?
We have seen elected governments being overturned. The status of a state (Kashmir) has been unilaterally altered and it has been bifurcated. Truly, these are strange times in which our democracy itself is being weakened. So, let's see what happens. However, I do not think that it will lead to any confrontation between the Centre and the state.
The Centre is also likely to make the process of granting citizenship under the CAA online so that it can avoid routing applications for citizenship through the district magistrate. This will enable the centre to bypass the states, which are not conceding its order. How will the state government tackle such a situation?
There is quite a lot of talk doing the rounds, which is part of their strategy to create confusion among the general public. I think it will only add to the confusion to opine on something on which we have no concrete information before us. Even on the CAA-NRC-NPR, we took a position based on the concrete situation that unfolded before us. So, let us not jump the gun.
The Union government maintains that the state government has no legal grounds to refuse NPR or NRC. There is an argument that in the case of refusal by states, the centre can, besides imposing President’s rule, stop all grants and financial doles to them. Are you ready to bear the political cost in such a scenario?
In a federal structure such as ours, state governments are imperative for the smooth functioning of our overall polity. They can't just be wished away. Now, many state governments have opined that the CAA is blatantly unconstitutional and that the CAA-NRC combine is fundamentally discriminatory. The Centre should try to have meaningful engagements with them and learn from them.
Those who are talking about withdrawing funds and grants to the states should understand that the Centre gets revenue from the states. They should realise that states like Kerala, get only a fraction in return, for every rupee that it pays to the Centre. Are they hinting that they will not require such funds anymore?
As far as the implementation of NPR or NRC is concerned, it will be difficult for the centre to go ahead without the co-operation of the states since they have the machinery for verification. Will you consult other state governments such as West Bengal, MP, Bihar, to name a few, who have defied CAA, in chalking out a strategy to impede the process of citizenship applications?
Many people are saying many things on behalf of the centre. The Prime Minister said that there has not been any talk of NRC. The Home Minister has repeatedly said that the CAA will be followed by the NRC. Now some are saying that NPR and NRC are not linked, while official documents indicate otherwise. There is this whole disinformation exercise that is currently going on, which is central to our ruling dispensation. Ultimately, that needs to be checked, and only a political battle can ensure that. We are utilising all possible avenues - including legal ones - to strengthen it and attain our objective: the withdrawal of the CAA-NRC-NPR combine.
This is the first time since BJP came to power in 2014, that many chief ministers including BJP's allies are coming together to assert their federal rights. Are we witnessing a resurgence of the country's federal aspirations?
We have a federal structure so that the requirements of our various states can be catered to. Regional imbalances, cultural aspirations, linguistic development etc. are some of the key issues that need to be addressed. And, this can be taken up earnestly, only by the state governments. As I said earlier, they are imperative and can't be wished away. When they feel that they are being overlooked, they will naturally resist and assert themselves. Weakening the federal structure essentially hampers our unity in diversity, India's biggest strength.
For in-depth, objective and more importantly balanced journalism, Click here to subscribe to Outlook Magazine