Gujarat MLA Jignesh Mewani pulled no punches as he addressed a gathering of about 3000 people at Saras Baug, Pune, on the occasion of the anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi’s assassination on Thursday. “We have held back, been restrained so long. No longer; PM Modi is a characterless man. Who else would have got state machinery to stalk a young woman in Gujarat? The cops even knew when she checked into a hotel!”
In November 2013, Cobrapost uploaded an exchange over the phone between Amit Shah, who had served as minister of state for home in Gujarat, and IPS officer GL Singhal. The taped conversation revealed that a woman was being snooped on by police, under instructions from “Saheb,” widely assumed to be Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who at the time was chief minister of Gujarat.
Mewani said the Citizenship Amendment Act and the controversy around it was one way for Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his supporters to divert attention from the sorry state of the economy, the lack of jobs and huge corruption. At least Rs 20 lakh crore has been lost to the nation through the government’s largesse to corporate houses in the time since Modi assumed office as prime minister, he said. “We have still to see the Prime Minister’s degree certificate, and now all Indians are expected to produce documentary evidence of being citizens–what happens to those who have lost their homes and their documents in floods? Adivasis, nomadic communities, those who have been displaced by natural or man-made calamities–how will they get documents?”
“Even Gujarat Chief Minister Vijay Rupani comes from a family that moved to India from Burma,” Mewani added. “When the enumerators arrive for the National Population Register, welcome them into your home and offer them nice ginger tea. Then tell them politely that you will show no papers,” Mewani said, to “Kagaz Nahi Dikhayenge” slogans.
Other speakers were equally blunt. Former judge of the Bombay High Court BG Kolse Patil said, “Who are Modi and Shah? They are men with blood on their hands.”
Activist Teesta Setalvad, well known for the legal aid she offered to victims of the 2002 riots in Gujarat, said, “I have longed for this time, when the women come out to defend their rights. Citizenship is what confers other rights on people. If citizenship is taken away, no other rights can be asserted. The Citizenship Amendment Act should be opposed tooth and nail.” She explained that there was no problem if the government wanted to offer protection to those persecuted in other countries. But why leave out Muslims?
One speaker questioned the cut-off date to offer citizenship for those arriving in India after facing persecution in Afghanistan, Bangladesh or Pakistan. “The cut-off date is 2014. So are we assuming that all persecution in neighbouring countries stopped once Modi became PM of India?”
Setalvad said no civilized nation would tolerate what is happening at present in Uttar Pradesh, where human rights are being given the short shrift. “In Assam, as the NRC process was underway, at least 100 people died–either taking their own lives in fear of being stripped of citizenship or dying of heart attack. People sold their lands and their belongings to pursue the matter. And it is not as if all the 19 lakh who did not find themselves included in the list of citizens after the final count did not have documents. They were denied citizenship because of minor discrepancies like how names were spelt in different documents, or because dates did not match. Our organization (Citizens for Justice and Peace) has been working in Assam for the last three years. Among those taken to a detention centre was a former soldier of the Indian Army who had served in the Kargil War. We must ask: Is the Army recruiting illegal immigrants? Is this not a matter of great shame for the nation?”
State cabinet minister Jitendra Awhad assured Maharashtra would stand by the Constitution, and that the CAA would not be implemented in the state.
Mohammad Shafiq from Karnataka brought up Home Minister Amit Shah’s assurance to Muslims in India that they need not fear. “But we have no fear! Our forefathers were part of the fight against colonial rulers. We have no cause for fear. We did not arrive in India on an invitation from the present dispensation, and we will not leave because they want us gone. Our forefathers are buried in this land, and it is ours.”
Sushma Andhare, who was only present on the occasion but took to the stage after people present insisted she address them, raised the slogan: “Sell tea, Modi, cutting chai, not the nation! Sell tea, sell pakoras, not the nation!”