Jodhpur (Rajasthan): Party lines grew harder on the controversial Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) on Friday with Union home minister Amit Shah kicking off a nationwide BJP campaign in defence of the new law and opposition figures like Kerala chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan urging fellow CMs of non-BJP parties to pass Assembly resolutions against the legislation just as he did in his state.
Signalling the BJP’s firm intent, Amit Shah asserted at an “awareness rally” in Jodhpur that the Union government would not budge an inch on the new citizenship law and rounded it with a photo op with Pakistani refugees. The refugees duly expressed gratitude to the government for bringing in the new law.
“Even if all these parties come together, BJP will not move back even an inch on this issue,” Shah declared, starting off a nationwide campaign by BJP MPs and ministers to drum up a defence of the government.
“You can spread as much misinformation as you want,” Shah said.
Characteristically, the BJP’s political messaging included a strong dose of mockery. At the Jodhpur rally, Amit Shah challenged the Congress’ Rahul Gandhi to a discussion and asked, “Rahul Baba, if you have read the CAA, then come to discuss it anywhere. And if you have not read it, I will translate it in Italian and send it you to read it."
Beginning Saturday, the BJP has planned 500 rallies such as the one Amit Shah led in Jodhpur, aiming to reach three crore people.
The Citizenship Amendment Act, 2019, seeks to grant Indian citizenship to Hindu, Christian, Sikh, Buddhist and Parsi refugees, but not Muslims, from Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Bangladesh and who entered India on or before December 31, 2014.
Opposition moves were equally strident as the BJP’s. Kerala chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan wrote to 11 non-BJP chief ministers to follow the example of his state Assembly in passing a resolution demanding that the CAA be scrapped.
Vijayan sent identical letter to chief ministers Ashok Gehlot (Rajasthan), Mamata Banerjee (West Bengal), Arvind Kejriwal (Delhi), Hemant Soren (Jharkhand), Uddhav Thackeray (Maharashtra), Nitish Kumar (Bihar), Y S Jaganmohan Reddy (Andhra Pradesh), Kamal Nath (Madhya Pradesh), Amarinder Singh (Punjab), Naveen Patnaik (Odisha) and V Narayanasamy (Puducherry).
Former foreign secretary Shivshankar Menon also pitched in on the opposition’s side, saying the amendment of the Citizenship Act was the Uunion government's "self-inflicted goal" which has "isolated" India and that the list of critical voices both at home and abroad is "pretty long".
Friday’s rhetoric was sharper following Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s strong attack on opponents of the CAA whom he advised to go protest against Pakistan’s treatment of its minorities rather than here in India. Hitting out at Modi for "frequently comparing India with Pakistan", Mamata Banerjee wondered, at her own rally in Siliguri, if he was an “ambassador of Hindustan or the neighbouring country”.
“Why does the PM regularly compare our nation with Pakistan? Are you (Mod) the prime minister of India or the ambassador of Pakistan? Why do you have to refer to Pakistan in every issue?" she asked.
Amit Shah’s Jodhpur rally was a strategic move to win the rhetoric war. Besides it being the constituency of the state’s chief minister, it also has a sizeable population of refugees from Pakistan. Among the exhibits presented by the BJP in this show was the manifesto of the Congress for the 2018 Rajasthan assembly polls. Doing a readout of that document, BJP spokesperson G V L Narasimha Rao said it promised all-round development to refugees from Pakistan, including those linked to their citizenship and rehabilitation.
Union minister Nityanand Rai came up with an even more involved angle. He claimed that the opposition to the CAA is really only an "attack on OBCs"; those protesting against the new legislation should be declared "anti-OBC" and "anti-Dalit".
The minister of state for home claimed that most of the non-Muslims fleeing harassment in Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan belong to Other Backward Classes (OBCs) and Dalits....