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Violent protests on Citizenship Amendment Act deeply distressing: PM Modi

Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Monday called violent protests on the new citizenship law “unfortunate and deeply distressing” and asked people not to let what he described as “vested interest groups” create a divide in society. PM Modi’s appeal came in a string of tweets on Monday afternoon, a day after protests against new provisions of the citizenship law at Jamia Millia University in the national capital set off a chain of agitations in many universities in parts of the country.

Minutes before the prime minister tweeted, a group of opposition parties had lashed out at the central government and Home Minister Amit Shah for the police action against protesters at Jamia and Aligarh Muslim University. Opposition leaders have called the police action against protesters an attempt to stifle debate and dissent at the universities.

PM Modi said debate, discussion and dissent were essential parts of a democracy. “But never has damage to public property and disturbance of normal life been a part of our ethos,” he said. Asking people to focus on developing the country, PM Modi said: “We cannot allow vested interest groups to divide us and create disturbance.”

The PM did not clarify who the “vested interest groups” were. But at an election meeting in Jharkhand on Sunday, PM Modi did accuse the Congress and its allies of fuelling violence over CAA in the northeast. “The Congress and its allies are stoking fire over the Citizenship Act, but people of northeast have rejected violence,” he said during an election rally in Jharkhand.

In his tweets on Monday, the prime minister also underscored that the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) was drafted “only for those who have faced years of persecution outside and have no other place to go except India”.

“I want to unequivocally assure my fellow Indians that CAA does not affect any citizen of India of any religion. No Indian has anything to worry regarding this Act,” PM Modi said.

“The Citizenship Amendment Act, 2019 was passed by both Houses of Parliament with overwhelming support. Large number of political parties and MPs supported its passage. This Act illustrates India’s centuries old culture of acceptance, harmony, compassion and brotherhood,” he tweeted.

The change in the citizenship law lets minorities from three Muslim-majority countries in the neighbourhood – Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan – to get Indian citizenship on the ground they fled the three countries due to persecution.

But opposition leaders quote Home Minister Amit Shah, who during his previous visits to Bengal and otherwise, has underscored that the change in citizenship law was designed to ensure that undocumented refugees from neighbouring countries, a reference to Hindus from Bangladesh, would not suffer when the central government carries out the national register of citizens (NRC) to expel infiltrators, a reference to Muslim migrants from Bangladesh.

The amended citizenship law had triggered a sharp reaction in northeastern states last week, particularly Assam. Several opposition parties had opposed the change that they alleged, violates the constitutional guarantee of equality before the law.

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