Declaring that the 'spirit of resistance has awoken', opposition parties led by the Congress on Monday called for repealing the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) and 'immediate stoppage of the NRC/NPR' on grounds that the 'package' is unconstitutional and targets the poor and downtrodden.
A meeting of the parties convened by the Congress in a bid to showcase their unity on their opposition to the CAA, National Register of Citizens (NRC) and National Population Register (NPR), however, exposed the chinks in their ranks with six major parties -- the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, the Samajwadi Party, the Bahujan Samaj Party, the Trinamool Congress, the Aam Aadmi Party and the Shiv Sena -- choosing to stay away.
The meeting attended by 20 parties also adopted a joint resolution alleging that the Bharatiya Janata Party has embarked on a 'dangerous course of sharpening communal polarisation'.
Former prime minister Manmohan Singh, Congress leaders Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi, Nationalist Congress Party supremo Sharad Pawar, Left leaders Sitaram Yechury (Communist Party of India-Marxist) and D Raja (Communist Party of India), Jharkhand Chief Minister Hemant Soren of the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha and Loktantrik Janata Dal chief Sharad Yadav were among those who attended.
While Congress chief Sonia Gandhi said the protests against the CAA and the NRC reflect widespread frustration and accused Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah of diverting attention from real issues such as the economy, her son Rahul Gandhi challenged the prime minister to visit any of the troubled campuses and speak on what he is going to do for the country.
'The CAA, NPR and NRC is a package that is unconstitutional, which specifically targets the poor, the downtrodden, the SC/STs and the linguistic and religious minorities.
'The NPR is the basis for the NRC. We demand the withdrawal of the CAA and the immediate stoppage of the nationwide NRC/NPR,' the joint resolution adopted at the meeting.
The BJP hit back at the Opposition, saying the resolution against the amended citizenship law must have made Pakistan 'happy', adding the legislation was a chance to expose Islamabad's 'barbaric treatment' of minorities.
Senior BJP leader and Union minister Ravi Shankar Prasad said the Opposition ended up 'unnecessarily' attacking the Modi government in the process.
Taking a dig at the Opposition, the Union law minister said their unity stood 'exposed'.
"Opposition unity stands exposed as major parties like SP, BSP, TMC and AAP kept away. The resolution is neither in national interest nor in the interest of security. It is also not in the interest of those minorities who fled neighbouring countries to escape persecution," Prasad told reporters.
The joint resolution also said all chief ministers who have announced they will not implement the NRC in their state must also consider suspend the NPR enumeration which was a prelude.
It listed three dates -- Subhas Chandra Bose's birth anniversary on January 23, Republic Day on January 26 and Mahatma Gandhi's martyrdom day on January 30 -- on which to peacefully and appropriately defend the Constitution and safeguard the secular democratic republic.
'A spirit of resistance has awoken. We urgent every fellow Indian to strengthen this spirit by joining in solidarity to observe January 23 is the birthday of Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose,' the resolution said.
On Republic Day, people should read the Preamble of the Constitution and take oath to safeguard it. And on January 30, highlight Mahatma Gandhi's relentless campaigns in pursuit of communal harmony.
The BJP, the resolution said, has embarked on a 'dangerous course of sharpening communal polarisation and attacking democratic rights and Constitutional guarantees of the people affecting millions of people and marginalized communities'.
Addressing the meeting, Sonia Gandhi said the nationwide spontaneous protests by youth supported by citizens reflect widespread frustration and pent up anger She also alleged that the response of police in UP and Delhi has been 'shockingly partisan and brutal'.
"The prime minister and home minister have misled the people. They have contradicted their own statements of only weeks ago, and continue with their provocative statements while remaining insensitive to the state suppression and violence that is increasingly becoming commonplace," the Congress chief said.
She said the real issue facing India today is the collapse of economic activity and slowing growth and development affecting all sections of society, especially the poor and disadvantaged.
"The prime minister and home minister have no answers and want to divert the nation's attention from this grim reality by raising one divisive, polarizing issue after another. It is for us to work together and thwart the designs of this government," she said.
After the meeting, Rahul Gandhi echoed her and said Modi was doing the biggest disservice to the nation by dividing it and distracting the attention of people.
He said the prime minister should stand up and have the courage to speak to the youth on why the Indian economy has become a disaster and why there is highest unemployment in 50 years.
"Unfortunately, the prime minister does not have the guts to stand in front of the students of this country and tell them so he crushes them using the police... I challenge the prime minister right now, to go to any of the universities, stand over there without his police, without his infrastructure and tell the people what he is going to do for this country," he said.
The opposition meeting also expressed their solidarity with the protesting students in their bid to win over the youth and students. Sources said the opposition is seeking to take the students' movement forward and have lent support to their cause.
Asked to comment on the parties which skipped the meeting, Ghulam Nabi Azad of the Congress said the opposition is together and united in opposing the CAA, NPR and NRC.
CPI-M leader Sitaram Yechury agreed and said some parties had not come but had expressed their support.
My party was first to protest against CAB: Mamata
West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, meanwhile, claimed that her party TMC was the first to voice its protest to the Parliamentary Standing Committee against the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill and none can question its opposition to the CAA.
She claimed that the Parliamentary Standing Committee record clearly states that TMC was the first to air its opposition to the CAB at the committee's meeting and asked the opposition parties who were speaking against her to check it.
Slamming the Left parties and the Congress who blamed her for a 'secret understanding' with Prime Minister Narendra Modi without naming them, Banerjee said, "None can question or doubt mine and TMC's credentials in fighting against the CAA, the NRC and NPR."
The two opposition parties had criticised her and charged her with having a 'secret understanding' with the prime minister for meeting him at the Raj Bhavan on Saturday after his arrival to the state and sharing the stage with him at the inauguration of the sound and light show at the Howrah Bridge by Modi.
The TMC supremo, who is a strident critic of the BJP, said West Bengal is not like Uttar Pradesh where several protesters were killed in police firing during protests
against the CAA.
"We always protect the democratic rights of people."
The chief minister, who was addressing an anti-CAA protest rally by Trinamool Congress Chatra Parishad (TMC student wing) also hit out at BJP saying, "They (BJP) have made PAN, Aadhaar, ration cards invalid. We will not allow them to do that".
Banerjee iterated her call to 'fight the BJP tooth and nail as they are anti-people'.
Photographs: Subhav Shukla/PTI Photos