Security personnel detain a protester during demonstrations against citizenship law in Meerut, India. AFP
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi addressed an election rally for his Hindu nationalist party on Sunday after another day of violent clashes between police and protesters demonstrating against a new Citizenship law that excludes Muslims.
“Muslims who are sons of the soil and whose ancestors are the children of mother India need not to worry,” Indian Premier Narendra Modi told a crowd of thousands in New Delhi on Sunday.Indias controversial citizenship law sparks violent protests
At least 25 people have died in almost two weeks of demonstrations and violence after the BJP government passed a law criticised as anti-Muslim. More protests took place on Sunday.
At a rally at Delhi’s Ramlila Maidan, Modi said those who previously supported the idea are opposing it today. He minced no words while taking potshots at the Congress, Left parties and the TMC for apparently shifting stance on the issue.
On Sunday, Modi spoke at length on the CAA as he kicked off the BJP’s election campaign for the soon to be announced Delhi assembly elections.
He clarified that the CAA is not meant for Indian citizens but for the refugees from the minority communities in Muslim-majority neighbours like Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan.
He cornered the opposition over the CAA and gave a clear indication about the BJP’s firm intentions on going forward with the law.
The Prime Minister recalled how, a few years ago, former prime minister Manmohan Singh had supported the idea of giving refuge to Hindus and other minorities from Bangladesh.
“If the Congress can support Manmohan Singh, why is it a crime if I propose it?” he said.
He also recalled that Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot who in his previous term had supported the idea of granting citizenship to Hindus and Sikhs.
“Why is he silent now?” After the Congress, it was the Left parties to face Modi’s fire on the CAA. Modi recollected that Prakash Karat had also supported the idea of giving citizenship to Hindus from Bangladesh and Pakistan in the past.
Modi also targeted West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee on her changed stand on the CAA. She used to take up the issue of Bangladeshi infiltrators a few years ago in the Parliament but now she is vehemently opposing the idea.
“What happened that you have changed didi?” Modi questioned.
Modi also scoffed at the noises being made over the NRC. “Even the NRC was mooted by the Congress not by me,” he said.
Amid the strident voices opposing the CAA, and outbreak of violence in Delhi and other parts of the country, the Prime Minister had remained silent on the issue so far. His speech on Sunday was uncompromising on the Citizenship Amendment Act.
Modi on Sunday chose to start his speech with an unusual chant, “Vividhta me ekta, Bharat ke visheshta” (Unity in diversity is India’s speciality).
Though the focus of the rally was the upcoming Delhi Assembly election where the BJP’s state unit drummed up the fact that the Centre regularised illegal colonies that benefitted thousands, Modi chose it to be the platform to answer the raging opposition against the Citizenship Amendment Act.
On Sunday, Modi was at his aggressive best when he referred to certain opposition parties as “remote control” behind the current anti-CAA agitation.
“There’s no discussion on NRC... Some educated urban Naxals are spreading this rumour that all Muslims will be sent to detention centres. ‘Ye jhhut hai, ye jhhut hai, ye jhhut hai’ (These are lies),” he said.
Police clash with protesters during demonstrations against new citizenship law in Lucknow on Thursday. AFP
Needless to say, BJP put its best bet forward and hopes to use his image to win Delhi election, where it was decimated by AAP in the last polls.
Though Modi’s focus largely remained the opposition parties and their alleged flip flops on the Citizenship Amendment Act, Modi had done one thing that most in the BJP failed to: Unite the entire Delhi BJP unit.
Several thousand people took part in Modi’s rally where he accused the opposition of distorting facts to trigger protests.
“The law does not impact 1.3 billions Indians, and I must assure Muslim citizens of India that this law will not change anything for them,” said Modi, adding that his government introduces reforms without any religious bias.
“We have never asked anyone if they go to a temple or a mosque when it comes to implementing welfare schemes,” he said.
Most of the deaths have occurred in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh, where 20% of the state’s 200 million people are Muslim. Police deny any wrongdoing. Among the 15 people killed in the state was an 8-year-old boy who died in a stampede, police said.
Authorities have scrambled to contain the situation, banning public gatherings and blocking internet access.
Modi took the stage at a rally launching his Bharatiya Janata Party's campaign for New Delhi legislative assembly elections in February. He urged a sea of supporters to chant, "Unity in diversity is India’s specialty.”
The law allows Hindus, Christians and other religious minorities who are in India illegally to become citizens if they can show they were persecuted because of their religion in Muslim-majority Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan. It does not apply to Muslims.
A small band of supporters of Modi's party marched in New Delhi on Sunday. Elsewhere in the capital, activists from India's northeast, a tribal area where people fear an influx of migrants will dilute their culture and political sway, held a rally.
Rajkumar, who goes by one name, added that five police officers, including three with bullet wounds, were being treated in hospital.
In the city of Firozabad, also in Uttar Pradesh, a police spokesman confirmed "one person has died and at least one other is injured... during the protests", but added the cause of death was not yet known.
The confrontation came as thousands regathered at Delhi Gate following an earlier sit-in in the same area after marching from India's biggest mosque Jama Masjid in the afternoon.
"All the people here, be it those who are Hindu, Muslim, Sikh or Christian -- they are all out on the streets," Tanvi Gudiya told the media at another Delhi rally in a Muslim neighbourhood after Friday prayers.
"So doesn't it affect Modi at all? Does Modi not like anyone? Why is he becoming like Hitler?
Violence also spread to other parts of Uttar Pradesh, where almost 20 per cent of the 200-million population are Muslim, with demonstrators throwing stones and police firing tear gas.
In Modi's home state of Gujarat, there were new clashes between security forces and protesters in Vadodara city, a day after battles in the largest city Ahmedabad left 20 policemen and 10 locals injured.
The protests have in places seen demonstrators hurl rocks at security forces and set fire to vehicles, while alleged police brutality -- including at a Delhi university on Sunday -- has fuelled the anger.
The authorities have scrambled to contain the situation, imposing emergency laws, blocking internet access, and shutting down shops and restaurants in sensitive pockets across the country.
In Uttar Pradesh -- home to over 200 million people -- mobile internet and text messaging services were cut in several areas including in Ghaziabad, which neighbours Delhi.
Mobile phone services were also briefly suspended Thursday in parts of Delhi, and access in parts of northeast India -- where the wave of protests began -- was only restored on Friday.
In a strongly worded editorial, the Indian Express Friday said the government must do all it can "to keep the peace" in the country, home to 200 million Muslims.
"But in doing so the world's largest democracy cannot look like it cannot accommodate its young who disagree, it cannot afford to signal that it is so ill at ease with itself.
"India risks a lot if it begins to be seen as a place where the dissenter's mind is not without fear."
The third day of what had been a peaceful demonstration against the law, passed by India's Parliament last week, descended into chaos Sunday afternoon. Three buses were set on fire, police officials said.
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