However, the chief ministers of non-BJP-ruled states and the Opposition parties continued to remain critical of the measures.
New Delhi: As the protests continued all over India against the Citizenship (Amendment) Act and the National Register of Citizens, the government made it clear that it was not going to budge an inch on its decisions.
“Let all these parties come together. The Bharatiya Janata Party is not going back an inch on the CAA,” said Union home minister Amit Shah in Jodhpur on Friday as he launched an “awareness programme” in support of the CAA. Mr Shah accused the Congress and other parties of running a “misinformation” campaign and playing votebank politics, and said the CAA does not take away Indian citizenship from anyone, but grants citizenship.
However, the chief ministers of non-BJP-ruled states and the Opposition parties continued to remain critical of the measures. Kerala chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan wrote to 11 non-BJP chief ministers to follow the example of his Assembly in passing a resolution demanding that the CAA be scrapped. Mr Vijayan said there was a need for unity in the country to protect democracy and secularism.
“Apprehensions have arisen among large sections of our society consequent to the Citizenship Amendment Act 2019. The need of the hour is unity among all Indians who wish to protect and preserve our cherished values of democracy and secularism,” Mr Vijayan said in the letters sent to Mamata Banerjee (West Bengal), Ashok Gehlot (Rajasthan), Arvind Kejriwal (Delhi), Hemant Soren (Jharkhand), Uddhav Thackeray (Maharashtra), Nitish Kumar (Bihar), Y.S. Jagan Mohan Reddy (Andhra Pradesh), Kamal Nath (Madhya Pradesh), Amarinder Singh (Punjab), Naveen Patnaik (Odisha) and V. Narayanasamy (Puducherry).
Punjab CM Capt. Amarinder Singh came out in support of the Kerala Assembly resolution demanding scrapping of the CAA, saying it was the voice of the people and the Centre should also pay heed. In an open letter to Union law minister Ravi Shankar Prasad, the Punjab CM said the states have already taken necessary legal advice on the matter and termed the Kerala Assembly’s resolution on the amended citizenship law the “voice of the people” as spoken through their elected representatives, and urged the Centre to pay heed.
Declaring that as heads of responsible state governments “we are neither naive nor misguided”, he said laws could not be forcibly imposed on citizens, and like all powers, even parliamentary powers were coupled with a duty to exercise it responsibly.
Critising Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Delhi CM Arvind Kejriwal urged the people to reject the “unnecessary” law and urged the Centre with “folded hands” to roll back the “controversial legislation”. In Guwahati, CPI(M) general secretary Sitaram Yechury accused the BJP of indulging in “dirty politics” with an intent to consolidate the “Hindutva votebank”.
The BJP, however, remained firm with no signs of compromise. Mr Shah even challenged Congress leader Rahul Gandhi for a discussion on the CAA. “Rahul baba, if you have read the law, come anywhere for a discussion (charcha). If you haven’t read it, I will get it translated into Italian,” he said, in a swipe at his Italian-origin mother Sonia Gandhi.
He stressed that the Congress, Trinamul Congress, Samajwadi Party, Bahujan Samaj Party, Aam Aadmi Party and the Communists are opposing the law. Mr Shah said it is hard to understand why West Bengal CM Mamata Banerjee is opposing citizenship for Bengali-speaking Hindus and dalits living in West Bengal. “There is no need to fear from Didi. I want to say that refugees living in Bengal will not have to face any atrocities. You will be granted citizenship with honour,” the home minister said.
In New Delhi, Union minister Nityanand Rai said those protesting against the CAA should be declared anti-OBC and anti-dalit and only “a handful of people have come out and are protesting” against the CAA.
The BJP plans to take out 500 rallies across the country, beginning Saturday, to reach out to three crore people.
Responding to the BJP’s barbs, Rajasthan CM Ashok Gehlot advised the BJP to shun arrogance and go for a rethink on the CAA and NRC. “PM Modi used to give ‘Mann ki Baat’ speeches and people used to listen. Now, why such a situation has developed that he has to give a clarification regarding the Citizenship Amendment Act, NPR and the NRC. He is sending people all over the country, all leaders to go and explain to the public. Why has such a situation developed,” Mr Gehlot asked, while accusing the BJP of polarising the country.
Peaceful protests against the CAA continued on Friday in several parts of the country. Amid slogans like “Rainbow against Saffron”, “Inquilab aaya hai”, “Halla Bole” and songs like “Hum dekhenge”, Delhi saw a unique gathering at Jantar Mantar where women, transgenders, sex workers, street hawkers and domestic workers protested against the CAA, NRC and NPR. Similar protests were held in various parts of the country by these groups to mark the birth anniversary of Savitribai Phule and Fatima Sheikh, who fought for women’s empowerment.
Rafiul Alom Rahman, founder of the Queer Muslim project, said over 2,000 transgenders have been left out of the NRC in Assam and there is fear that the numbers will be much higher if an all-India NRC takes place. “The CAA and NRC exclude communities, groups and people and violates the Constitution... The situation of a persecuted minority can be different from that of homosexuals and transgender, and more so if they are Muslims,” said Rahman.
Asiya Khatun, a domestic worker living in Nand Nagri, had taken a day off to take part in the protest. She is a Bengali but not Bangladeshi. “Everyone will be impacted with the NRC, not just a few. I have come to show solidarity with people,” she said. Many in the crowd also felt the government is diverting attention from its failures and economic crisis through such laws.
Former national security adviser Shivshankar Menon said the CAA was a “self-inflicted goal” which has “isolated” India and the list of critical voices both at home and abroad is “pretty long”. Speaking at a press conference, Mr Menon said the move has resulted in India now being “hyphenated” with Pakistan as an “intolerant” state.
Meanwhile, a court in Uttar Pradesh granted bail to Congress worker and actor Sadaf Jafar, former IPS officer S.R. Darapuri, Pawan Rao Ambedkar and many others. They are arrested for protesting against the citizenship law on December 19 in Lucknow.