Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Adityanath said on Tuesday that the Muslim population in India has increased since Partition because the country gave special rights to the community, unlike in Pakistan, The Indian Express reported on Wednesday. He claimed that the protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act were a conspiracy by a “crooked” Opposition.

“The Muslim population in India has increased manifold since 1947, it has gone up by seven to eight times,” Adityanath claimed while addressing a rally in Bihar’s Gaya city, organised by the Bharatiya Janata Party in support of the citizenship law. “No one has any objection. Their population has increased because they have been given special rights and facilities. All possible steps were taken to ensure their growth. But what happened in Pakistan?”

Adityanath wondered why the Hindu population in Pakistan has decreased since 1947, and said there was no clue where they had gone. He also claimed that anyone who opposes the Citizenship Amendment Act is working against national interests.

Adityanath said Bihar Deputy Chief Minister Sushil Kumar Modi and state BJP chief Sanjay Jaiswal have articulated how the Citizenship Amendment Act is about granting citizenship to persecuted refugees, and not about taking anyone’s citizenship away. “For taking such a step, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah deserve acclaim,” he said. “Instead, they are being attacked.”

“Protests are taking place across the country and a crooked Opposition is adding fuel to the fire,” the Uttar Pradesh chief minister said. Adityanath claimed that those who are resentful of a united India, which is becoming a reality under Narendra Modi, have hatched a conspiracy.

Adityanath said that many people benefited from welfare schemes like Ujjwala Yojana and Ayushman Bharat for which the beneficiary’s religion or caste are not declared. “This new India does not cower, like the Congress did, before Pakistan’s atomic power,” Adityanath asserted. He added that Pakistan is now afraid of losing even Pakistan-occupied Kashmir after the Centre abrogated Jammu and Kashmir’s special status. He claimed that it was “wrongly introduced” by former Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru.

Midway through Adityanath’s speech at the Gandhi Maidan, a bunch of black balloons rose up above the northern side of the ground, The Hindu reported. However, the chief minister ignored the balloons and carried on.

Sushil Kumar Modi, Sanjay Jaiswal and Bihar minister Prem Kumar attended Adityanath’s rally. Several young people dressed in saffron-coloured clothes shouted “Jai Shri Ram” sitting in the front row.

Meanwhile, hundreds of protesters, under the banner of the Samvidhan Bachao Morcha (Save the Constitution Forum), demonstrated at a short distance from Gandhi Maidan. They have been protesting against the Citizenship Amendment Act for the last 17 days. “A huge amount of resentment is building... against this discriminatory law CAA and proposed exercises like National Register of Citizens and National Population Register in Gaya,” convener of the forum, Omair Khan told The Hindu.

The population register is linked to the census, due in 2021, and is described as “the first step towards the creation of a National Register of Citizens”. The NRC is a proposed nationwide exercise to identify undocumented migrants.

The Citizenship Amendment Act, passed in Parliament on December 11 and notified on January 10, provides citizenship to refugees from six minority religious communities from Bangladesh, Afghanistan and Pakistan, provided they have lived in India for six years and entered India by December 31, 2014. The Act sparked nationwide protests for excluding Muslims.

At least 26 people died during last month’s protests against the legislation – 19 in Uttar Pradesh, five in Assam and two in Karnataka. The Uttar Pradesh Police, in particular, have been accused of brutalities, such as entering people’s homes to destroy their property, arresting innocents and detaining and targeting minors.