The President of India signed the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) on December 13, which was a Friday. For those who are superstitious, the timing of the law couldn’t have been grimmer. Since then, vociferous protests and violence leading to many deaths, primarily in three states — 5 in Assam, 18 in Uttar Pradesh and 2 in Karnataka.
The CAA grants citizenship to six persecuted minorities in neighboring countries Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Bangladesh which are all Muslim-majority countries. The Citizenship Amendment Bill (CAB) was steered through both Houses of Parliament by the BJP-led government before it finally became law.
From its conception to enactment and beyond, the controversial law’s journey has been accompanied by protests and violence in many places. But while protests have manifested in most parts of the country, they have for the most part been peaceful and orderly.
So the unprecedented protests in the three BJP-ruled states are all the more intriguing. The Popular Front of India (PFI), a fundamentalist organization, has emerged as a common thread in these three states.
The most intense violence was initially reported from several parts of the northeast, notably Assam and to some extent Tripura. Guwahati in Assam was the epicenter of the anti-CAA protests, with Chief Minister Sarbanand Sonowal’s home district of Dibrugarh also witnessing violent protests. Protestors blocked roads and public property was vandalized in mayhem unleashed in the aftermath of the CAA.
The BJP-led state government accused the Congress and the PFI of being behind the unprecedented protests.
Uttar Pradesh has the largest Muslim population in India, and understandably the CAA has stoked fears in the community, leading to widespread protests in several parts of the state. The violence saw protestors indulging in heavy stone pelting and setting vehicles ablaze after which police got into action.
The Uttar Pradesh death toll has been put at 18 with several people still under treatment in hospitals. The BJP government headed by Yogi Adityanath is unwilling to back down on the issue. The Chief Minister announced tough measures in the wake of the rioters and penalties levied on those identified as indulging in violence.
Meanwhile, intelligence sources have pointed out the growing influence of PFI in Uttar Pradesh.
Karnataka, the only south Indian state with a BJP government at the helm, was the other major center of anti-CAA protests in the country. Two people died in police firing on violent protestors in Mangalore. Karnataka’s coastal belt, where Mangalore is located, has a significant Muslim population and witnesses communal tensions occasionally.
Here too, the government has taken a tough stand on the anti-CAA protests. The compensation announced for the victims of police firing has been kept on hold after video footage showed them indulging in violence during the protests.
Incidentally, coastal Karnataka is contiguous to neighboring Kerala where the PFI has made its presence felt in the past.
Some of the biggest protest-related violence has taken place in Delhi and attracted the attention of people within and outside the country. But while Delhi state is ruled by the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), New Delhi as the seat of the government is a target of the anti-CAA protests.
In recent days, the PFI has been named as a major factor in the protests ringing out in academic institutions, especially in the Jamia Millia Islamia.
While the opposition Congress has been raising its voice against the CAA, there was a conspicuous absence of high voltage action in protests across Congress-ruled states such as Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and even in Maharashtra.
The intensity of protests and violence in BJP-ruled states, when juxtaposed against the relatively peaceful protests in other states, has raised doubts over the apparent spontaneity of the protests and the related violence in these three states. The emergence of the PFI as a common factor in all these states points to a troubling conclusion that cannot be ignored.