Union Home Minister Amit Shah on Tuesday said Jawaharlal Nehru University student Sharjeel Imam’s alleged remarks about cutting off Assam from the rest of India were “more dangerous” than former JNU student leader Kanhaiya Kumar’s slogans.
Imam, a PhD scholar, is under fire for alleged remarks he made at Aligarh Muslim University on January 16. In a clip on social media, Imam was purportedly heard telling protestors to “cut off Assam from India” by occupying the “Muslim-dominated Chicken’s Neck”. The comment was widely perceived as a secessionist one, but Imam claims he had called for peaceful protests to “block roads going to Assam” – “basically a call for chakka jam”. His family has claimed that the video was doctored.
The JNU student was arrested in Bihar earlier in the day on charges of sedition after he reportedly surrendered to Delhi Police. Kumar, now a leader of the Communist Party of India, had also faced sedition charges in 2016.
“Have you seen the video of [the speech of] Sharjeel?” Shah asked party workers at an event in Chhattisgarh’s capital Raipur. “It is more dangerous than Kanhaiya Kumar’s statement. He is talking about cutting off the Chicken’s Neck to disintegrate Assam from India. Even seven generations would not be able to do that.”
The Siliguri Corridor in West Bengal, also known as Chicken’s Neck, connects the North East to the rest of India. Sedition cases have been filed against Imam in Assam, Uttar Pradesh, Arunachal Pradesh, Manipur and Delhi. The charges include offences under the draconian Unlawful Activities Prevention Act.
Shah accused the Opposition of misleading people about the Citizenship Amendment Act and reiterated that the citizenship of Muslims born and residing in India would not be taken away. He also lashed out at Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal for allegedly not expediting the prosecution of Kanhaiya Kumar and others.
“Two years back slogans were raised for dividing India,” the home minister claimed. “Immediately, Modi decided to put Kanhaiya Kumar and company in jail. It has been one and a half years and sanction to prosecute them is still pending before the Kejriwal government. They should be ashamed of it.”
The Citizenship Amendment Act 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 the country by December 31, 2014. Twenty-six people died in last month’s protests against the law – all in the BJP-ruled states of Uttar Pradesh, Karnataka, and Assam. The government’s statements about conducting an all-India National Register of Citizens, or NRC, has also drawn the ire of the Opposition and the protestors. The aim of NRC is to identify undocumented immigrants.
The government’s critics fear that the amended law, clubbed with NRC, will be misused to target Muslims since the Citizenship Act now has religion as a criterion. Work has also begun on the National Population Register, which is the first step towards creating a citizens’ register.