India’s citizenship law draws protest call from opposition Congress Party

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India’s police personnel have been accused of committing violence in dispersing those protesting against the citizenship law. (AFP)
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Rahul Gandhi, former President of Indian National Congress gestures as he speaks during a rally against India's new citizenship law in Guwahati on December 28. (AFP)
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Updated 29 December 2019

India’s citizenship law draws protest call from opposition Congress Party

  • Congress leader Rahul Gandhi calls for nationwide protests to ‘halt BJP hatred’

NEW DELHI: India’s main opposition Congress Party marked its 135th foundation day on Saturday with a call for nationwide protests against a controversial citizenship law that has divided the country.

Former party President Rahul Gandhi led the campaign in the northeastern state of Assam, where ethnic Assamese have claimed the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) will make them a minority in their own state.

The act fast-tracks citizenship for persecuted Hindus, Parsis, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains and Christians who arrived in India before the end of 2014 from Muslim-majority Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan.

But critics say the law is discriminatory and goes against the secular spirit of India’s constitution.

“Wherever the BJP (Bharatiya Janata Party) rules, it spreads hatred,” Gandhi told supporters in Guwahati, Assam’s biggest city.

“The Congress Party will not allow the divisive designs of the Hindu right-wing forces to succeed and will oppose this attempt to divide society,” said Gandhi, who is the son of the party’s president Sonia Gandhi.

In northern India, his sister Priyanka Gandhi launched the party’s campaign in Lucknow, capital of the country’s biggest state Uttar Pradesh.

She condemned local BJP workers for targeting thousands of social activists who came out to protest against the CAA and criticized police “high-handedness” in dealing with protesters, particularly Muslims.

At least 18 people are believed to have died after police opened fire on demonstrators. CCTV footage also shows senior police officials abusing protesters.

Police have denied any wrongdoing.

Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath on Friday justified his government’s crackdown, saying that the action has “shocked” every protester into silence.

“Every rioter is shocked. Every troublemaker is shocked,” he said.

However, Priyanka Gandhi claimed “the BJP has poisoned government officials so much that they have forgotten their constitutional duty,” 

“Today the country is in trouble. If we do not raise our voice, we will prove to be cowards,” she added.

BJP President and India’s Home Minister Amit Shah blamed the opposition Congress for “spreading rumors” about the CAA. “The Congress and company are spreading rumors that Muslims are going to lose their citizenship,” he said.

“I challenge Rahul Gandhi to show me if there is even a single line in the act regarding the withdrawal of anyone’s citizenship. Don’t misguide and divide people over the CAA.”

Meanwhile, protests continued in cities including Mumbai, Kolkata and Bangalore.

In New Delhi’s Shaheen Bagh area, more than 200 women have held a sit-in protest for the past two weeks over what they call an “indiscriminate citizenship act.” The demonstration forced authorities to close an adjoining national highway.

“We have been sitting here with our children day and night, and we will not move until the government withdraws the CAA,” said Fatima Begum, a housewife.

Sana Fatima, a student, said that “the BJP regime has acted indiscriminately from day one. The CAA and proposed National Register of Citizens are meant to target Muslim community. For us this is an existential crisis.”

Political analysts say that the CAA and national register are aimed at identifying those who pose a serious danger to the “religious amity of the nation.”

However, the act also has the potential to destroy the religious peace that has existed in India since independence, Subhajit Naskar, an assistant professor of international relations at West Bengal Jadavpur University, said.

He told Arab News that the BJP wants to capture Bengal in the 2021 assembly elections, and the CAA and NRC are being implemented to deprive many Muslims of their citizenship.

“This will polarize West Bengal, which has a sizeable Muslim population,” Naskar added.

“The nationwide outrage proves that secular values in India are still vibrant and alive. The fact that Hindu leaders are using mosques to express solidarity with Muslims indicates that Prime Minister Narendra Modi is facing the biggest resistance of his political career,” he said.

Over 200,000 vote in Hong Kong’s pro-democracy primaries

Updated 12 July 2020

Over 200,000 vote in Hong Kong’s pro-democracy primaries

  • Exercise being held two weeks after Beijing imposed a sweeping national security law on the semi-autonomous territory

HONG KONG: Hundreds of thousands of Hong Kongers turned up over the weekend to vote in an unofficial two-day primary election held by the city’s pro-democracy camp as it gears up to field candidates for an upcoming legislative poll.
The exercise is being held two weeks after Beijing imposed a sweeping national security law on the semi-autonomous territory in a move widely seen as chipping away at the “one country, two systems” framework under which Britain handed Hong Kong over to China in 1997. It was passed in response to last year’s massive protests calling for greater democracy and more police accountability.
Throngs of people lined up at polling booths in the summer heat to cast their vote despite a warning by Hong Kong’s constitutional affairs minister, Eric Tsang last week that the primaries could be in breach of the new national security law, because it outlaws interference and disruption of duties by the local government.
Organizers have dismissed the comments, saying they just want to hold the government accountable by gaining a majority in the legislature.
The legislation prohibits what Beijing views as secessionist, subversive or terrorist activities or as foreign intervention in Hong Kong affairs. Under the law, police now have sweeping powers to conduct searches without warrants and order Internet service providers and platforms to remove messages deemed to be in violation of the legislation.
On Friday, police raided the office of the Public Opinion Research Institute, a co-organizer of the primary elections. The computer system was suspected of being hacked, causing a data leak, police said in a statement, and an investigation is ongoing.
Hong Kong’s pro-democracy camp, which includes multiple parties, is attempting to join forces and use the primaries as a guide to field the best candidates in the official legislative election in September. Its goal is to win a majority in the legislature, which is typically skewed toward the pro-Beijing camp.
To hold the primary elections, pro-democracy activists had raised money via crowd funding. They pledged to veto the government’s budget if they clinch a majority in the legislature. Under the Basic Law, under which Hong Kong is governed, city leader Carrie Lam must resign if an important bill such as the budget is vetoed twice.
On Saturday alone, nearly 230,000 people voted at polling booths set up across the city, exceeding organizers’ estimates of a 170,000 turnout over the weekend.