EU debate on Indian law triggers diplomatic dissent

Many analysts in India felt the European legislative body had “no business” debating a law passed by Indian Parliament. Photo iStock
Many analysts in India felt the European legislative body had “no business” debating a law passed by Indian Parliament. Photo iStock

THE European Parliament’s decision to debate resolutions moved against India’s Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) has led to a diplomatic conundrum. In fact, it has turned into a ‘parliament-versus-parliament’ tussle.

Many analysts in India felt the European legislative body had “no business” debating a law passed by Indian Parliament. The dismay was evident as Om Birla, Speaker of the Lok Sabha (Indian Parliament’s Lower House), shot off a letter to the European Parliament President David Maria Sassoli.

Birla’s message was clear and concise:

“I understand that Joint Motion for Resolution has been introduced in the European Parliament on the Indian Citizenship (Amendment) Act, 2019.

This act provides for easier citizenship to those who have been subjected to religious persecution in our immediate neighbourhood.

It was not aimed at taking away anyone’s citizenship and the legislation was passed after due deliberation by both houses of the Indian Parliament.

As members of Inter-Parliamentary Union, we should respect sovereign processes of fellow legislatures, especially in democracies.

It was inappropriate for one legislature to pass judgements on another, a practice that could surely be misused by vested interests.

I would urge you to consider the proposed resolution in this light, confident that none of us wants to set an unhealthy precedent.”

Vice President M. Venkaiah Naidu was among top Indian leaders who disapproved the European Parliament’s move. He asserted at a recent public gathering that there was “no scope for outside interference in India’s internal matters” and the country was capable of addressing its concerns on its own.

Naidu also expressed concern at the “trend” of foreign bodies interfering in matters that were “completely within the purview of the Indian Parliament and government”. Notably, a few of the resolutions up for debate mention the Kashmir issue, too.

“Our polity and democracy do provide enough space for expressing differences and dissents whenever warranted,” added Naidu, with a reminder that India was one of the most vibrant democracies in the world.

Indian Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad questioned the objectivity of the EU Parliament members who backed the resolutions. Giving the issue a subtle geopolitical spin, he asked if they had ever raised their voices over the plight of minority Hindus and Sikhs in Pakistan.
Prasad, however, said India would “engage” its critics.

“The government of India has already explained that it (the CAA) is our internal matter. We believe in engagement,” he said at a news conference. “Lots of Left parties there [Europe] have sought this resolution and our external affairs minister will engage with them and explain our position.”

The parties that had tabled the resolutions were: the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats, Group of the European People’s Party, Group of the Greens/European Free Alliance, European Conservatives and Reformists Group, Renew Europe Group and European United Left/Nordic Green Left Group.

Analysts, meanwhile, pointed out that what happens in European Parliament has no or little legal or geopolitical ramifications. The European Council and Commission matter more.

European Union spokesperson Virginie Battu-Henriksso’s statement reflected that view: “As per its regular procedures, the European Parliament published the draft resolutions. It is important to recall that these texts are only drafts tabled by various political groups….

“Let me also remind you that the opinions expressed by the European Parliament and its members do not represent the official position of the European Union.”

For India, the issue is not the Strasbourg debate. It is more about “bad optics”. And the timing is quite awkward as Prime Minister Narendra Modi is slated to attend the European Union’s 15th Summit with India in Brussels on March 13.