The Shiv Sena abstained from the vote on the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill in the Rajya Sabha on Wednesday, two days after voting in favour of the bill in the Lok Sabha citing "national interest". Behind the U-turn from one house to the other is the Sena's new Maharashtra ally Congress, which had made clear its displeasure at the party's support to the bill in the Lok Sabha.
The walkout by three Shiv Sena members brought the half-way mark down, making it easier for the government, which does not have a majority in the Rajya Sabha and needs every vote possible to pass legislation. The bill cleared the Rajya Sabha with 125 voting in favour and 99 voting against it.
The Shiv Sena had repeatedly said it could vote differently in the Rajya Sabha if Home Minister Amit Shah's statement on the bill was not satisfactory.
"I have been hearing since yesterday that those who do not support this Bill are anti-national and those who support it are nationalists. We don't need any certificate on our nationalism or Hindutva," the Sena's Sanjay Raut said during the debate in the Rajya Sabha.
"We have hopes from a strong Prime Minister and Home Minister. Will you push out the infiltrators after the Bill is passed? If we are giving shelter to refugees, there should be no politics over it. Will they get voting rights," he asked.
The Shiv Sena has been under pressure from the Congress, which is extremely upset at the party for voting in favour of the controversial bill on Monday. To make things worse between the ideologically opposite allies, Rahul Gandhi tweeted yesterday: "The #CAB is an attack on the Indian constitution. Anyone who supports it is attacking and attempting to destroy the foundation of our nation."
As they revised their stand on the citizenship bill, Sena leaders took their cue from party chief Uddhav Thackeray, who became Chief Minister of Maharashtra last month with support from the Congress and Sharad Pawar's Nationalist Congress Party (NCP). "We will not give support to the bill unless things are clear. They (government) should make changes when they bring the bill to the Rajya Sabha," said Uddhav Thackeray on Tuesday, shortly after Rahul Gandhi's tweet. Reports suggest the Congress, which dithered for several days before agreeing to tie up with a pro-Hindutva party like Shiv Sena, read the riot act to an ally that it believes severely compromises its secular image.
This morning, before Rajya Sabha began debating the bill, Sanjay Raut said: "We have to clear our doubts on this bill, if we don't get satisfactory answers then our stand could be different from what we took in Lok Sabha."
The Shiv Sena, a former ally of the BJP, had raised eyebrows by voting in favour of the bill on Monday after criticising it in its mouthpiece Saamana that very morning and calling it an instrument of "invisible partition" in India.
The bill -- which seeks to make it easier for non-Muslim migrants from Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh who entered the country before 2015 to become Indian citizens -- sailed through the Lok Sabha with 334 in favour and 106 votes against.