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Govt ready to talk to Shaheen Bagh protesters: Ravi Shankar Prasad

Ravi Shankar Prasad also said it is "not possible" for the government to go and negotiate with the protesters at Shaheen Bagh. "What if someone goes there and is mistreated?" he asked.

Written by Liz Mathew | New Delhi |
February 1, 2020 10:34:14 am
Shaheen Bagh has become the epicenter of protests against the CAA. (Express photo by Amit Mehra)

In a first sign of opening a window of dialogue on the new citizenship law, Union Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad said the government is ready to talk to protesters of Shaheen Bagh “but then it should be in a structured form”. In a tweet, he said the Narendra Modi govt is ready to communicate with them and clear all the doubts that they have against the citizenship law.

Prasad is the first minister in the government to offer talks with the protesters who are on a sit-in in Delhi’s Shaheen Bagh – the epicentre of the protests led by women against the Citizenship (Amendment) Act.

Earlier, during a debate on India TV, Prasad was asked why the central government is not trying to communicate with the anti-CAA protesters at Shaheen Bagh. To this, Prasad replied, “If you are protesting then it’s a good thing. But the other people from your community say on television that until the CAA is rolled back, there will be no dialogue. If you want the government to discuss CAA then there should be a structured request from Shaheen Bagh which says all the people there want to talk on the subject.”

Prasad also said it is “not possible” for the government to go and negotiate with the protesters at Shaheen Bagh. “What if someone goes there and is mistreated?” he asked.

Shaheen Bagh has become the epicenter of protests against the CAA, termed as discriminatory on the basis of religion as it seeks to grant persecuted Hindus, Buddhists, Sikhs, Jains, Parsis, and Christians in neighbouring Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan who have entered India before December 31, 2014 citizenship.

The remarks from Prasad, a senior minister in the Narendra Modi government came a day after its smaller allies such as SAD, LJP and JD-U expressed their displeasure over the ruling party’s stance on new citizenship laws. Sources have said that the ally leaders who attended an NDA meeting chaired by Prime Minister Modi on Friday cautioned the government against moves that could create “suspicion and fear” among the Muslims. Prime Minister Modi from his side has told his coalition partners that the Muslims have the same rights as any other communities.

The government, sources in the party said, was also under pressure from the international community which has criticised the new citizenship laws and the proposed moves for a nation wide National Register of Citizens (NRC), against which there has been protests across the country.

While the BJP has insisted that there will not be any review of the CAA, its leaders gave mixed signals about the NRC. While Modi has in his December 22 speech in Delhi stated that the NRC exercise was not even discussed in the government, President Ram Nath Kovind, who had mentioned about the NRC in his June address to the Parliament, has omitted any reference to it in his address on Friday.

The protesters in Shaheen Bagh, mainly women, have been sitting on a peaceful protest there for over 45 days. The road that they have been sitting is a key link between Delhi and Noida in NCR and has caused major traffic jams. In Delhi, which is going to polls on February 8, the Shaheen Bagh protest has become a flash point between the ruling AAP and the BJP with the former putting the onus of removing the traffic troubles on the BJP. On the other hand, the BJP has accused AAP of “supporting”the Shaheen Bagh.

BJP’s leading campaigner, Home Minister Amit Shah has repeatedly asked the voters to choose between “nationalists” and “those who support Shaheen Bagh”. Statements from the BJP leaders, including one from the junior finance minister Anurag Thakur who chanted “desh ki gaddaron ko” to which the crowd responded”goli maron saalon ko” have drawn severe criticism against the BJP. However, the BJP leaders were of the view that raising Shaheen Bagh in poll speeches had the potential to consolidate the Hindu votes in its favour in Delhi elections.

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