From Delhi, Lucknow and Bengaluru to Kolkata, Mumbai and Patna, protests against the new controversial citizenship law today moved out of university campuses in multiple cities as thousands poured into the streets defying prohibitory orders. The protests hit normal life in many places. In the national capital, internet and telecom services were snapped for the first time.
In the Old Lucknow neighbourhood in UP and in Karnataka’s Mangalore, protests took a violent turn as angry mobs fought pitched battles with the police and set ablaze buses and vehicles. One was killed in Lucknow and two in Mangalore.
In Delhi, senior Opposition leaders and hundreds of students and activists were detained by police as they marched from Red Fort in the old city area. Among those detained included Left leaders Sitaram Yechury, D Raja, Brinda Karat, Congress’s Ajay Maken and Sandeep Dikshit and activists like Yogendra Yadav. Students leaders like Umar Khalid too were among those detained near Mandi House in the heart of the capital.
In Bengaluru, historian and author Ramchandra Guha was detained, his stand-off with the police and detention captured on video that spread across social media as a powerful frame of civil society speaking up and calling out the new law.
A large number of protesters gathered at the Jantar Mantar as well. While protests remained largely peaceful in Delhi, where there were violent demonstrations and police action in Jamia Millia Islamia just a few days ago, clashes broke out in Lucknow and there were reports of arson.
Protesters pelted stones at the police and set on fire a police post. A passenger bus was set on fire in the Sambhal area.
DGP O P Singh said police had to fire tear-gas shells to control the situation in Madeyganj area, while nearly 20 people have been taken into custody. AMU teachers held a silent march opposing the new law in Aligarh.
Talking tough, Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath said there is no place for violence in a democracy and promised “revenge” on those behind the violence. “There was violence in Lucknow and Sambhal and we will deal with it strictly. All properties of those involved in damaging public assets will be seized and auctioned to compensate for the losses…They have been captured in video and CCTV footage. We will take ‘badla’ (revenge) on them,” he said.
In Mangaluru, police lobbed tear gas shells, resorted to baton charge and fired in the air to disperse protesters. Authorities have imposed Section 144 for the next three days starting from Thursday in Bengaluru, Mysuru, Kalaburagi, Mangaluru, Belagavi, Hubballi, Shivamogga, Chikkamagaluru and Hassan and Chikkaballapura.
Several Metro stations were closed in Delhi and authorities ordered shutting down of internet and telecom services in select areas. Congress’s Abhishek Singhvi said Delhi is seeing a “Kashmir-like situation.” “Why has the internet been shut down? Have all residents of Delhi become urban naxals?” asked senior Congress leader P Chidambaram. Singhvi said “there is undeclared emergency in the country.”
“Section 144 has been imposed near Red Fort…Metro stations are closed down..There are obstructions everywhere, roads are closed….The normalcy that is being talked about in Kashmir has reached here. And what is the Kashmir-like normalcy…Airtel…Jio have said that internet has been shut down under direction…Yeddyurappa has imposed Section 144 in almost all of Karnataka…there are huge demonstrations in Kolkata…AASU is protesting all over Assam…In Bihar, posters have surfaced about missing Chief Ministers. Schools and colleges are shut…there are protests in Patna… this is not BJP-kaal…this is aghoshit apaatkaal (undeclared emergency),”Singhvi said.
The BJP hit back with the party’s working president J P Nadda asserting that the citizenship law will be implemented and “going forward National Register of Citizens (NRC) also will be brought in.” Nadda accused the Congress of spreading hatred and indulging in the politics of appeasement.
New protests, new risk
The widening of anti-CAA protests across the country poses new challenges to the Centre and states: law and order and the potential risks of communal polarisation. Violence in BJP-ruled states may sharpen the faultlines and set the stage for a crackdown.
He said the language of Pakistan and that of the Congress was the same. India, he said, is marching ahead under Prime Minister Narendra Modi and will continue to do so. “The Citizenship (Amendment) Act will be implemented, so will be the NRC in future,” he said.
Commenting on the protests across the country, Maharashtra Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray told reporters at his official residence in Nagpur: “The environment of unrest is there across the country. If unrest is going to remain in the country, then what is the use of such a Hindu rashtra?”
West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee dared the Government to conduct a UN-monitored referendum on the Citizenship Act and the proposed nationwide NRC. “Just because BJP has got the majority doesn’t mean they can do whatever they want. If the BJP has guts, it should go for a United Nations-monitored referendum on the issue of Citizenship Amendment Act and the NRC…If the BJP loses this mass vote, then it should step down from the government,” she said.
Yechury said the situation in Delhi was worse than that during the Emergency. “India today has the ignominy of being the largest internet shutdown in the world. It is unacceptable. Metro stations were closed. This is worse than what we saw during the Emergency. The manner in which they are dealing with democratic protests is unacceptable. Today’s protests showed the determination of youngsters to not let democracy be butchered. This was not a one-off protest, such protests will continue,” he said.
AICC general secretary Priyanka Gandhi Vadra said the voice of people cannot be silenced by force. “Every time force is applied to dominate and rule, every time you beat and suppress, every time you push people to the wall, they will rise up stronger, their resolve will strengthen and their voice will grow louder. Our freedom movement was proof of this, our constitution is the guarantor of it and our people are the soul of it,” she said.