A second day of protests yesterday tainted Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to Assam where proposals to change a nationality law have sparked outrage.
Protesters waved black flags and burned effigies of the nationalist prime minister while some students staged a nude protest outside the state government complex in the state capital of Guwahati.
The nude protesters were detained while Assam student groups said police baton charged another group of activists.
Black flag protests greeted Modi when he arrived in Guwahati on Friday night to start the tour of Assam, Arunachal Pradesh and Tripura as he prepares to call a national election.
His Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has faced a severe backlash in the notheastern region over a proposed change to a 1955 citizenship act which would give Indian nationality to Hindus and other minorities who have fled the neighbouring Muslim countries of Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan.
Assam, a state of 33mn, has been plagued by decades of tensions between local tribal and indigenous groups and settlers from outside, including many Muslims and Hindus from nearby Bangladesh.
Modi insisted that his government will ensure that the amended law does not harm Assam and neighbouring states however.
Addressing one public rally, he said the bill, which still needs approval from the Rajya Sabha, the parliament’s upper chamber, was a “national commitment” to the minorities.
“The passage of the bill will ensure that those people who love India more than their lives will be accommodated in India. It is a responsibility of India to accept those people,” he said.
Modi said citizenship will only be granted after thorough checks on each applicant.
While groups in Assam want to block all outsiders, human rights activists have condemned the government law for not covering Muslims.
They say it will be the first time religion has been a criterion for nationality in India, which is officially secular.
Last year the Assam government released the first draft of a state citizens’ register that rejected 4mn mainly Muslim residents who were unable to prove they were living in the state before 1971, when millions fled Bangladesh’s war of independence.
Modi said that his government was speeding up efforts to seal the India-Bangladesh border.
An election is expected to be called for April-May and the BJP’s hopes in the northeastern states have been badly damaged by the new law, analysts said.
The prime mMinister said the government is committed to ensuring that there are no illegal foreigners in Assam and the country.
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