THAKURNAGAR: As a raucous debate rages on over the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, Prime Minister Narendra Modi made a strong pitch for the contentious piece of legislation on Saturday, insisting it would bring "justice and respectability" to those who faced religious persecution.
Modi, who took his electoral battle to strident critic West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee's turf, launched a blistering attack against the state's ruling TMC, accusing it of orchestrating violence targeting BJP workers and claiming she had become jittery due to people's love for his party.
"India got Independence after splitting it into pieces. People thought they can make a living in the country of their choice, but there they faced atrocities and torture because of communal malice Hindus, Sikhs, Jains and Parsis.
"It was because of this that we brought the Citizenship Bill. These people have no place to go other than India. Should they not be given justice and respectability? I ask the TMC to support the Bill and facilitate its passage in Parliament."
Modi was addressing an event of the Scheduled Caste Matua community.
The Matuas originally hail from erstwhile East Pakistan and began migrating to West Bengal at the beginning of the 1950s, mostly due to religious persecution.
With an estimated population of 30 lakh in West Bengal, they can influence results in at least five Lok Sabha seats in North and South 24 Parganas districts.
However, many of them are claimed to have still not got Indian citizenship.
Modi's spirited defence of the Citizenship Bill in Matua heartland is apparently aimed at creating a new vote base for the BJP, just a couple of months or a little more ahead of the general elections.
The prime minister's address to a rally of 'Matua Mahasangh', which is aligned to the BJP, came days after 10 political parties of the northeast, most of which are members of the BJP-led North East Democratic Alliance (NEDA), besides the JD(U), the saffron party's key ally in Bihar, decided to oppose the Bill, calling it detrimental to the interests of the locals.
Addressing the well-attended rally, where his speech was welcomed with loud cheers, Modi accused Banerjee and the TMC of unleashing violence against BJP workers.
"Now I can understand why Didi (Banerjee) and her party are indulging in violence, killing innocent people. She has become jittery because of your love for us," he told the gathering, which grew restive barely minutes into Modi's address.
Soon there was commotion as people pressed their way through the wooden log barriers in an attempt to move ahead to have a closer look at the prime minister.
Repeated attempts by Modi to calm down the edgy crowd fell on deaf ears as people began throwing chairs inside the no-man zone in front of the dais to create space for others who clambered across the barricades into the inner ring.
An unspecified number of people, including women, were reported to have been injured in the melee.
As the situation threatened to get uglier, Modi ended his speech within 14 minutes and left the venue.
Modi alleged, in years that followed Independence, villages were neglected, and asserted that under his stewardship an "honest" attempt was made to change things for the better.
The prime minister called yesterday's Union Budget a "historic" step towards empowering peasants, workmen and the middle class.
"We have announced measures in our budget that will benefit 12 crore small farmers, 30-40 crore workmen, and three crore middle class people," he said.
He assailed non-BJP governments of "pulling the wool over the eyes" of the agrarian community with the promise of farm loan waiver, which did not help the cause of the targeted beneficiaries.
Mocking the Congress governments in Chhattisgarh, Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh, the prime minister said they made false promise of loan waiver.
"Loans are being waived of farmers who never took it and those who were promised farm loan waiver of Rs 2.5 lakh got a waiver of just Rs 13. This is the situation in MP," he alleged.
He claimed the government in Rajasthan had now "abjectly surrendered", and was saying it was not aware that writing off the farm loans will cause such great financial stress.
"Now they are using police against farmers demanding waiver," he said.
The prime minister said the NDA government had approved a staggering Rs 75,000 crore income support scheme for 12 crore small and marginal farmers.
They will get Rs 6,000 in their bank accounts in three equal instalments in a year, with the first tranche coming soon.