India’s Modi Calls Protests Against New Law a ‘Distraction’
Prime Minister Narendra Modi addresses Vijay Sankalp Rally in support of East Delhi candidates ahead of the upcoming Delhi Assembly polls, at Karkardooma in New Delhi. (Source: PTI /Manvender Vashist)

India’s Modi Calls Protests Against New Law a ‘Distraction’

(Bloomberg) -- India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Monday called the protests against his government’s citizenship law a political diversion meant to distract voters, ahead of a bitterly contested state election in the country’s capital.

The Aam Aadmi Party, that rules Delhi and the opposition Congress party are “playing games with Indian democracy,” Modi said in a campaign rally in Delhi. The protests in the city were a “distraction from real conspiracies,” he added. The city goes to polls on Feb. 8.

Tensions have been high in the Indian capital with at least three shooting attacks near a prominent protest site against the new law which seeks to grant citizenship to illegal immigrants of all faiths from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan except Muslims. Thousands, especially students, have hit the streets since Parliament approved the law in December.

Modi did not address those attacks or the rhetoric by members of his Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party directed against those protesting the law. The anger has been mostly aimed at the city’s Shaheen Bagh neighborhood where hundreds of Muslim women have been protesting against the Citizenship Amendment Act for some seven weeks now. The women have been joined by hundreds of students and rights activists of all faiths.

Modi, who was criticized in December for his speeches defending the religion-based law in which he had exhorted people to identify protesters by their clothes, on Monday steered clear of any direct defense of the law. Apart from criticizing the protesters he focused on tax announcements in the budget and investments planned for Delhi.

The BJP faces off against the Aam Aadmi Party in the polls. Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal, has campaigned on his government’s work to improve the city’s broken public school system and provide affordable healthcare, electricity and water to the city’s poor.

Thousands of protesters have been part of sit-ins and demonstrations around the country and the capital for more than a month to voice their opposition to the law they say is at odds with India’s secular constitution.

They fear the law is a precursor to a nationwide citizen’s register that aims to weed out illegal migrants and which critics say is expected to be used against Muslim citizens by the Modi-led government.

Two members of India’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party who made have made incendiary campaign speeches in Delhi directed at the protesters have been barred by the country’s independent Election Commission from campaigning for several days.

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

Also read: What’s in Modi’s Budget for Indians? Precious Little

BQ Install

Bloomberg Quint

Add BloombergQuint App to Home screen.