New Delhi: The BJP was caught unawares by the magnitude of the “spontaneous” protests against the amended citizenship law that have erupted across the country, but insiders said the party was not “worried” about its implications.
Over the past week, demonstrations against the law — that promises citizenship to Hindus, Sikhs, Christians, Parsis, Buddhists and Jains of Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh — have broken out across the country from Guwahati to Mumbai and Chennai to Delhi.
Many places have seen violent agitations and clashes between police and protesters, internet shutdowns and curfew being imposed.
In this backdrop, there are many within the BJP who felt that the citizenship law should serve as a lesson for the party and the government — to do their homework.
Many are citing the scrapping of Article 370 in Jammu and Kashmir on 5 August as a model that should have been followed. At that time, the BJP had organised a month-long awareness exercise with every MP, state unit and cadre being roped in.
“This time round nothing of the sort was planned. It seems the senior leadership was quite confident that they will get huge support for it just like 370. The kind of preventive measures that should have been in place were missing but it is being dealt with now,” said a senior BJP leader.
Another issue being debated by party leaders is whether so many decisions should have been taken one after the other.
“You need to give time to people to absorb these issues that have been pending for so many years. Right from taking the decision on triple talaq, Article 370 and now citizenship amendment, people have not had time to absorb all this,” said another BJP leader.
“Rather, each issue should have been taken up in a different session. More debates should have taken place so that people received clarity on the issue so they wouldn’t fall for the misinformation which is being spread by the opposition.”
To allay fears within the Muslim community, the minority wing of the party has also started organising seminars and public meetings to “dispel” rumours and misinformation being spread by the opposition, said another leader.
“There are a lot of fence-sitters and the kinds of protests that have been going on have left a negative impact on them as far as the BJP is concerned. It is important to correct that,” said the leader.
‘Protests will help BJP’
There is, however, also a section in the BJP that is quite confident the protests will only help widen its base among Hindu voters.
“West Bengal seems to have been given on the platter,” said one BJP leader from the state, commenting on the “gains” the party will make from the Citizenship (Amendment) Act.
“The fact that West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee has been opposing it publicly and vociferously only allows the BJP to target the Hindu voters much more convincingly,” he added.
The confidence notwithstanding, BJP insiders said the party had “faltered” in creating awareness and shaping public opinion around the amended citizenship law.
So, the BJP now plans to launch an extensive awareness campaign across the country with special emphasis on West Bengal. Party MP and BJP’s Bengal unit chief Dilip Ghosh said there will be no rethink on the citizenship law.
“It was there in our manifesto. We passed the law in Parliament after due diligence. We consulted constitutional experts before bringing in the law. Why should there be a rethink now?”
Ghosh said the Bengal unit will hold a mega rally in the state on 23 December,
where state leaders will thank the central leadership for bringing in the law.
BJP leaders, he added, will then visit villages, mandals and districts across the state to create awareness about the new citizenship law.
“We will tell the people that we have not done anything illegal. We will explain to the people what it means and how it is being politicised unnecessarily,” Ghosh said.
With Delhi elections around the corner, many in the party also felt the move will bring them electoral dividends.
“Just see where all the protests have taken place. Most of them are Muslim-dominated areas. Both the AAP and Congress are competing for the Muslim vote. This will only help us consolidate our position and get the Hindu vote,” said a BJP leader.
“This atmosphere of protest, the anarchy that is being spread by the opposition will only help us in bringing back the focus on the fact that BJP is the only alternative for them.”