Mamta Banerjee is arrested

India is witnessing the most violent protests since Modi came to power

The anger over a new immigration law unites the otherwise fragmented opposition. She sees another attempt by the Hindu nationalist government to deprive Indian Muslims of their rights.

After days of violent protests against a new immigration law in India, opponents of Prime Minister Narendra Modi hope to channel the unleashed popular anger and thus bring the fragmented opposition to a united position against the government. The major Indian left-wing parties and some trade unions jointly called for nationwide demonstrations on Thursday against the law, which puts Muslim immigrants at a disadvantage in acquiring Indian citizenship. In several constituent states in which opposition parties have the say, the local governments have taken the lead in the insurrection. In Kolkata, West Bengal, for example, Prime Minister Mamata Banerjee marched at the head of tens of thousands of demonstrators and announced that the central government in Delhi would implement the law “only on her corpse”. India is on fire, warned the politician who heads the 90 million member state.

It is the first time since 2014, when Modi and his Hindu nationalists took over the business of India, that the government has faced such large and sustained protests against its right-wing nationalist policies. The state authorities reacted to the unrest with excessive force. In the northeastern state of Assam, six people were killed over the weekend when security forces attacked protesters. In Assam, as in other parts of the country, the government has now switched off the Internet and mobile communications services, so that little is known about the local situation. In the capital Delhi, the police stormed the large Islamic university on Sunday, hunted down students and passers-by and arrested around 100 people. TV pictures showed that the security forces proceeded with extreme brutality. The dean of Jamia Millia Islamia University spoke of 200 injured. Also because the images from Delhi have further fueled the mood, universities across the country have now become epicentres of turmoil. Demos were again planned for Tuesday at universities in Delhi, Mumbai, Hyderabad, Chennai, Lucknow and other metropolises.

The goal of the Hindu nationalists: a large Hindu empire

The trigger for the resistance is a law that was boxed in an urgent procedure by the parliament controlled by Modis BJP and which is supposed to regulate the naturalization of illegal immigrants from Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh. The draft stipulates that Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Christians and members of small religious minorities can acquire Indian citizenship after six - instead of the previous eleven - years. Muslims are excluded from preferential treatment. The government claims this is to offer refuge to people fleeing religious persecution in Muslim countries. Critics, however, accuse Delhi of breaking the constitutional principle with the new regulation, according to which there should be no discrimination on the basis of belief. The head of the Supreme Court, who will have to re-examine the law before it is implemented, said the court will not meet until the situation has calmed down.

Modi's opponents accuse the government of wanting to degrade the approximately 200 million Muslims in India to second-class citizens. In fact, it is the declared aim of the BJP to make India a "Hindu Rashtra", a great Hindu empire. Many of the BJP leaders are openly anti-Muslim and clearly state that there will be no place in the new India for those of other faiths. At the same time, the Muslim minority is being deprived of its rights bit by bit. In the summer, the only Muslim-majority member state, Jammu and Kashmir, was deprived of its constitutional right to self-determination. Shortly afterwards, almost two million mostly Muslim citizens of the state of Assam were stripped of their Indian citizenship because their ancestors are said to have illegally immigrated to India from what is now Bangladesh.

For the opposition, the immigration law is further evidence that the government wants to divide the country along predetermined religious breaking points. Rahul Gandhi, who suffered a crushing defeat in the May election as the top candidate of the Congress party, called the law a "weapon of mass polarization brought up by fascists." In view of the ongoing protests, however, some see signs that Modi, who is currently ruling with an absolute majority, is finally facing headwinds. "The attempts of the Modi government to destroy India's secular society are meeting with growing resistance," said Newsclick, one of the few remaining independent news sites.