New Delhi: Prime Minister Narendra Modi Sunday broke his silence on the nationwide protests against the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, and assured the agitating Muslim community and others that there was no discussion on the National Register of Citizens in his government.
The move is being seen as a retreat from the Modi government’s aggressive posturing on the NRC, in particular by Union Home Minister and BJP president Amit Shah.
Speaking in front of thousands of people who had gathered to thank him for regularising unauthorised colonies at Delhi’s Ramlila Maidan, Modi reminded people that the NRC was implemented in Assam on the orders of the Supreme Court. “The idea came up during the time of the Congress, was everyone sleeping then?” he asked. “We did not make it, nor has it been taken up by the cabinet or Parliament, nor have any rules been framed. Indian Muslims have no reason to fear CAA and NRC.”
The PM added that the CAA is not for any Indian citizen, and there has been a “concerted misinformation campaign spread by the Congress” and the people BJP supporters often characterise as urban Naxals.
He accused the opposition of spreading “a childish lie that they will be sent to detention centres, and affirmed that “our government has never discriminated on the basis of religion”.
“My rivals can burn my effigy, they can beat my effigy with shoes if they hate me, but do not set public property on fire,” he appealed.
Why the change in tune?
Party sources told ThePrint that the government was facing international embarrassment over the last 10 days due to widespread protests across the country. The PM’s image was at stake, especially because the protests were was not limited to a few areas but had spread across the length and breadth of the country.
This is why Modi went back to the message of “sabka saath, sabka vikas”, and not alienating Muslims.
The hope seems to be that Modi’s clarifications on the CAA and NRC will help the BJP regain some lost ground and support ahead of the next round of assembly elections in Delhi in a couple of months’ time, as will the regularisation of unauthorised colonies.
‘Our politics not based on discrimination’
Modi, who spoke for over 100 minutes, addressed the BJP’s core vote bank as well as detractors and opponents.
He said at least a dozen times that his politics was not based on discrimination, and asked the thousands in attendance at the Ramlila Maidan: “When we authorised the unauthorised colonies, did we ask anyone their religion? Did we ask which political party they supported? Did we ask for documents from 1970, 1972, 1980? I want to ask the Congress and other parties… why are they lying?”
He also gave examples of government schemes like Ujjwala, with its eight crore beneficiaries, to make the point that religion was not a criterion for giving these benefits.
He also appealed to the protesters to respect the Tricolour. “Since they are carrying the national flag, I feel assured that they will understand the responsibility of holding a flag… They will not resort to violence, they will protest against violence. Holding the flag is a right, but also a responsibility,” Modi said.
He also tried to whip up support for police personnel who have cracked down on protesters at various places, and on some occasions, even suffered at the hands of the crowds.
“33,000 policemen have sacrificed their lives since independence. When there is a crisis, they don’t go around asking people’s religion,” the PM said, leading the crowd in raising the slogan “shaheedon amar raho” (martyrs, live forever).
Attacks on the opposition
Modi launched multiple attacks on opposition parties, especially the Congress, about which he said: “Leaders from the oldest party are mum on the violence; they are not even ready to appeal to people to shun violence. It means they are behind this violence and agitation.”
He accused opposition parties of raising false propaganda to defame the country internationally. “These parties have tried to defame me for the last 20 years and now they find that Modi is gaining support in Muslim countries too, so they have started spreading fear among the Indian Muslims,” the PM said. “There is an effort to finish me, but they will not be successful.”
He said India had an opportunity to expose Pakistan over its discrimination against minorities, but it has been lost due to the politics of the Congress, AAP, Trinamool Congress and the Left.
On defiant chief ministers, especially Mamata
PM Modi also targeted chief ministers of states like Punjab, Chhattisgarh and Kerala who have insisted they won’t implement the CAA in their states. “You are chief ministers, have sworn an oath on the Constitution. You should ask the advocate general… under which rule can you not implement the act?”
Modi reserved a special section of his speech for West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, who has been the most vocal opponent of the new citizenship law, and whose mocking of the law and Amit Shah’s words has gone viral.
He mimicked Banerjee a few times, and addressed her directly too. “Didi, you campaigned against Bangladeshi immigrants once, and now you have a problem with it.” He made a reference to an old speech of hers in Parliament against infiltration into West Bengal, and attacked her for “changing” her stand due to “vote bank politics”.