While the week of nationwide protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act and National Register of Citizens is yet to ring serious alarm bells within the BJP or government, there is a growing realisation in sections of the party of the need for political spadework.
As the demonstrations spread from Darbhanga to Malegaon, these sections believe the protests can’t be dismissed simply as led by “a coalition of the marginalised minority and the liberal losers of 2014 and 2019” — a description the BJP likes to use. For, this is, arguably, the first time in the country that Muslims are coming out in such strong numbers to protest against a law, invoking their rights as enshrined in the Constitution.
On Saturday, the BJP announced a “massive contact programme”, to be held over the next 10 days, to clear “confusion” over the CAA, claiming it has been spread by vested interests. As part of the campaign, it will hold press conferences at 250 places across the country.
BJP working president JP Nadda also held a meeting of party office-bearers from states on Saturday to chalk out a strategy.
“Since the victory of the Modi government in 2014, the Muslims have felt marginalised. There has been little representation in Parliament or Assemblies where the BJP has won. Then triple talaq, the insecurity of lynchings, fear about what they eat, Article 370, and the latest Ayodhya ruling… The NRC and CAB have come as a trigger,” a senior BJP leader admitted.
The BJP gambit is projecting the protest as limited to a “varg vishesh (a select set)”, and the violence as instigated by the Opposition. “What public cause are these protestors espousing over which common cause can be made?” is one BJP line. The other being, “Those who are organising these protests have always been opposed to us. So what is new in this?”
However, a growing section in the BJP also realises that if violent images may hurt the movement’s popularity, the counter images of police action, and any casualties, could backfire on its government. Allies like the JD(U) and LJP have already expressed their disquiet, while the Akali Dal reiterated on Saturday that Muslim refugees should not be kept out of the CAA concessions.
The developments also come at a time when the BJP, just months into its second term, is already battling below-expectation performance in Maharashtra and Haryana elections and a deepening economic slowdown.
On the other hand, the Opposition is trying to frame the CAA debate as a rich vs poor issue, underlining repeatedly that it is the latter who would have to stand in lines, like during the note ban, to prove their citizenship. While it keeps a distance from the protests, which remain a loosely coordinated and organic effort among different sections disaffected with the ruling establishment, it hopes these will gather momentum like the Anna Hazare-led anti-corruption drive of 2010, which fed into the resentment against the UPA-II government.
The Opposition is also well aware that any wrong move on its part could easily play into the hands of the BJP, and used by it as a polarising issue.