"Centre has merely amended a small portion of the existing Citizenship Amendment Act. The amendment will help us give citizenship, it does not mean that citizenship will be taken away from anyone," Prime Minister Narendra Modi explained at the Belur Math in Kolkata on Sunday at a time when West Bengal has been witnessing widespread protests against the contentious Citizenship Amendment Act.
Hundreds of protesters holding black flags demonstrated outside Kolkata airport gate number one crossing at the prime minister's arrival on Saturday. The police had put up a barricade to prevent them from crossing over to the airport side. Rallies were taken out in several parts of North and South Kolkata, Howrah, and North 24-Parganas district to protest the prime minister's visit to the state.
Modi reportedly stayed at Belur Math on Saturday ahead of the Sunday morning address. He began his day attending a prayer meet at Belur Math to mark the birth anniversary of Swami Vivekananda, the founder of Ramakrishna Mission. Modi and chief minister Mamata Banerjee are likely to share stage at the 150th celebrations of the Kolkata Port Trust at Netaji Indoor Stadium on Sunday.
Special moments from the Belur Math. 🙏🏼 pic.twitter.com/XcgQ6gAt4A
— Narendra Modi (@narendramodi) January 11, 2020
Swami Vivekananda lives in the hearts and minds of crores of Indians, especially the dynamic youth of India for whom he has a grand vision.
Today, on Vivekananda Jayanti and National Youth Day I am at the Belur Math, including the room where Swami Ji meditated. pic.twitter.com/UeWQkUk94C
— Narendra Modi (@narendramodi) January 12, 2020
Addressing the event at Belur Math on Sunday morning, Modi said, "There has been a minor amendment to the existing Citizenship Amendment Act. India will give citizenship under that amendment. No existing citizenships will be taken away. Who will get this citizenship? Those belonging to religious minority groups in countries like Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan. After Independence, Mahatma Gandhiji and other big leaders of the time, all believed that India should give citizenship to persecuted religious minorities of Pakistan. Isn't this our responsibility to save those persecuted people or not?"
"Did you understand what I explained? Did the children present here understand?" asked Modi. When the crowd chanted yes, Modi said, "What you understood so soon, Opposition in this country is unwilling to understand."
"Despite so much clarity on the issue," the prime minister said, "Opposition is using political opportunism to spread lies around CAA. Will you stand by Modi's side in this decision?" The crowd chanted yes.
"Political parties are not ready to understand the citizenship act... Despite such clarity, some people are spreading rumours about CAA. But I am happy that the youths of today helping others to get rid of the misconceptions. It's because of this (citizenship) law that people here have become aware of the kind of persecution the Hindus in Pakistan face. Pakistan is now answerable to us," Modi said.
He, however, deplored that a section of the youth is being "misguided" over the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, which is aimed at giving and not taking away anybody's citizenship rights. "Today, on National Youth Day, I would like to tell this to the youngsters of India, West Bengal, North East that this is not an overnight law for giving citizenship.
"We must all know that any person of any religion from any country of the world who believes in India and its Constitution can apply for Indian citizenship through due process. There's no problem in that," he told a gathering at Belur Math, the headquarters of Ramkrishna Mission.
Modi said even Mahatma Gandhi had favoured Indian citizenship to those fleeing religious persecution and that his government has only delivered on the wishes of the freedom fighters.
"We've only done what Mahatma Gandhi had said decades ago. Should we send these refugees back to die? Are they our responsibility or not? Should we make them our citizens or not?" he said, evoking a thunderous applause by the gathering.
Modi said some people with political interests are deliberately spreading rumours about the new citizenship law, despite "complete clarity" over the CAA.
"Our initiative to amend the citizenship act has created a dispute. It is the result of our initiative that Pakistan will now have to answer why they have been persecuting minorities for the last 70 years. Human rights have been demolished in Pakistan," he said. He said the citizenship law was only "changed a little" for those who were ill-treated in Pakisan after Partition.
"They were having a bitter time living there. Women were in danger of losing their pride," he said. "Young people have understood the whole thing but those who want to indulge in politics over it will not," he said. Modi said five years ago, there was disappointment among the youth of the country, but the situation has changed now.
"Not just India, the entire world has a lot of expectations from the youth of the country. The youth are not afraid of challenges....they challenge the challenges," he said at the Belur Math, the abode of Swami Vivekananda for several years until his death in 1902, aged 39 years.
Seeking to assuage the concerns of the people of the North-East, Modi called the region "our pride". "Their culture, traditions and demography remains untouched by this amended law," he said. Referring to anti-CAA protests in the North-East, Modi vowed to protect the distinct identity and culture of the people of the region, and asserted the new law will not hurt their interests.
Student organisations of the Congress and Left, Muslim organisations, and university students including those from Jadavpur and Presidency, hit the streets in protest. Modi met Mamata later on Saturday evening, but the meeting was reportedly a short one as Mamata soon left for a anti-CAA rally soon after.
Mamata and Modi are also likely to share the stage during a programme in Kolkata today. "As far as we know, she (Banerjee) will attend a programme of the Kolkata Port Trust (KoPT) on 12 January, where the prime minister would also be present," a senior TMC leader told PTI.
The significant political development comes a day after Mamata had said in the state Assembly that she will boycott an opposition meeting called by Congress president Sonia Gandhi on 13 January over the JNU violence, the Citizenship (Amendment) Act and other "anti-people" policies of the Centre. Ever since the BJP emerged the main contender of the Trinamool Congress in West Bengal following the Lok Sabha poll results, Modi and Mamata have not shared the dais at any government programme.
The chief minister had gone to New Delhi in September last year and met Modi in a "courtesy call" visit. The new citizenship law has emerged as the latest flashpoint in the state, with the TMC opposing the contentious legislation tooth and nail, and the BJP pressing for its implementation.
With inputs from agencies
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Updated Date: Jan 12, 2020 12:59:31 IST