CAA row brought Pakistan minorities in focus: PM Modi
A fierce debate on citizenship has dominated India’s political discourse ever since Parliament passed CAA on December 11. Protests first erupted in the North-east, especially in Assam, where residents feared the law could result in an influx of outsiders.Updated: Jan 13, 2020, 03:15 IST
Disputes triggered by India’s amended citizenship law have helped the world community take note of the persecution of minorities in Pakistan, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said on Sunday, opening a new front in a raging debate that has triggered widespread protests, including those he faced on his two-day visit to West Bengal.
Addressing a gathering in Howrah district’s Belur Math, the headquarters of Ramakrishna Mission, Modi sought to allay apprehensions over the contentious legislation, reiterated that the law was not aimed at taking away a person’s citizenship, and stressed that a section of youth was being misguided.
“Had we not amended the citizenship law, this vivaad [dispute] would not have arisen. Had this dispute not arisen, the world would not have known the kind of atrocities that were perpetrated on [religious] minorities in Pakistan,” Modi said at the monastery, where he paid tributes to spiritual leader Swami Vivekananda on his 157th birth anniversary.
“...how human rights have been violated. How the lives of our sisters and daughters were ruined. It’s the result of our initiative that Pakistan will have to answer for its acts of oppression against the minorities there,” added Modi, who says he is inspired by the teachings of Vivekananda and spent the night at the Math.
His remarks drew sharp reaction from rival parties that accused him of politicising Ramakrishna Mission, which was founded by Vivekananda in 1897.
“Belur Math is not just a spiritual centre, it is a seat of learning. I have seen many prime ministers, including Indira Gandhi, coming here, but nobody did politics like Modi [did],” Bengal Congress president Somen Mitra said. Criticising Modi’s pitch for the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, or CAA, Partha Chatterjee, the general secretary of the state’s ruling Trinamool Congress, said, “After what Modi did at Belur, my head hangs in shame.”
The monastic order said it will not comment on Modi’s speech. “We are above politics...To us Narendra Modi is the leader of India and Mamata Banerjee is the leader of West Bengal,” Ramakrishna Math and Mission general secretary Swami Suvirananda said, adding: “We are inclusive as an organisation which has monks from Hindu, Islam, Christian (faiths). We live like more than brothers of same parents.” Praising Modi, Suvirananda said, “Narendra Modi is popular and dynamic. He is one of the best prime ministers. He has derived his inspiration from Swamiji [Vivekananda].”
CAA fast-tracks the citizenship process for refuges of Hindu, Sikh, Christian, Parsi, Jain and Buddhist faiths who entered India from Afghanistan, Pakistan and Bangladesh before 2015. Opponents say the act is unconstitutional because it links faith to citizenship in a secular country and discriminatory because it leaves out Muslims.
A fierce debate on citizenship has dominated India’s political discourse ever since Parliament passed CAA on December 11. Protests first erupted in the North-east, especially in Assam, where residents feared the law could result in an influx of outsiders. The demonstrations gradually spread to other parts of the country, and at least 21 people died in Uttar Pradesh in a flare-up of violence on December 20 and 21.
Critics say CAA, if combined with an all-India NRC, could result in the expulsion or detention of Muslims unable to provide the documentation required.
At Belur Math, Modi sought to assuage concerns of North-east, calling the region “our pride”. “Their culture, traditions and demography remain untouched by this amended law,” he said.
Modi also addressed young people on the National Youth Day, which is celebrated on Vivekananda’s birthday. “India’s youths are conscious, but some have become victims of rumours. I would like to tell our youth, particularly those in Bengal and the North-east ,that the Indian government did not come up with the law overnight. It is not meant to take away citizenship but to give it.”
On Sunday, the Congress and Left parties continued their protests in Kolkata on the second day of Modi’s visit to the state. Demonstrators carried placards opposing Modi and his Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), and sat overnight at Esplanade in the heart of the city. They waved black flags and shouted slogans against Modi outside the Netaji Indoor Stadium, where the Prime Minister addressed a function to mark 150 years of Kolkata Port Trust and renamed it after Jana Sangh founder Syama Prasad Mookerjee. At this event, held hours after the one at Belur Math, Modi took a dig at the Trinamool Congress and criticised chief minister Banerjee’s government for not implementing the Centre’s flagship schemes such as health insurance programme Ayushman Bharat Yojana and PM Kisan Samman Nidhi, a cash transfer plan for farmers.
“When there is no syndicate or cut involved, why would someone implement central government schemes? I don’t know whether they [state government] would give approval for central schemes such as Ayushman Bharat Yojana, PM Kisan Samman Nidhi, but if they do, people of Bengal will be able to enjoy their benefits,” he said.
He was apparently referring to West Bengal’s infamous “cut money” controversy that shone the spotlight on several Trinamool Congress leaders who allegedly took commission, or bribes, from people to get government schemes implemented. West Bengal CM Banerjee, a staunch critic of Modi and an opponent of CAA, was not present at any of the programmes of Modi on Sunday. She met him at the Raj Bhavan on Saturday, calling it a “courtesy call”, before joining an anti-CAA protest. She shared the dais with the Prime Minister at another programme on Saturday evening. Trinamool Congress general secretary Chatterjee took exception to Modi’s “cut money” comment. “Children talk like this. It is not befitting of a Prime Minster to talk of cut money. People are tired of hearing these [allegations].”