Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government did not anticipate the protests against a new citizenship law that have raged across the country and is now scrambling to control the damage, members of his ruling party said.
In Modi’s biggest challenge since taking office in 2014, hundreds of thousands have protested against the law offering citizenship to immigrants from non-Muslim minorities who have fled Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan.
Ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leaders were taken aback by the backlash, some party members told Reuters. They said they had been prepared for some anger from Muslims, but not the widespread protests that have convulsed most major cities for two weeks.
Now the party and the government are reaching out for help in defusing the crisis to allies and opponents sidelined when the bill passed earlier this month, the sources said. “I really did not see the protests coming … not just me, other BJP lawmakers were also unable to predict this kind of anger,” Sanjeev Balyan, a ruling party legislator and junior federal minister, told Reuters.
While there is no threat to his big parliamentary majority, the 69-year-old Modi’s reputation as a master strategist with his finger on the pulse of the people has taken a hit.
Publicly, his government has prioritized development, seeking to make India a $5 trillion economy by 2025. But Modi’s muscular pro-Hindu platform has also gone down well in a nation that is over 80% Hindu: he won back-to-back national elections with thumping majorities.
Outrage at the citizenship law has been fanned by resentment against the government for following a majoritarian agenda instead of addressing an economic slowdown and loss of jobs.
In a nation with a history pocked with sectarian bloodshed, many Muslims fear the new law – and a planned national citizenship register – could make the minority second-class citizens.
Students, politicians and rights activists, both Hindus and Muslims, have also taken to the streets, saying Modi is jeopardizing India’s secular constitution. The government denies the citizenship register is imminent and says none of the changes will affect existing citizens. (Reuters)
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