Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Friday asked National Democratic Alliance leaders to not be defensive over the amendments to the Citizenship Act and instead aggressively defend the law in Parliament, PTI reported.

He made the appeal at a meeting held to strategise for the Budget Session. The appeal came amid nationwide protests against the Act. The prime minister also urged NDA leaders to strongly rebut the Opposition’s claim that the amended law discriminated against Muslims.

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. The Act has been widely criticised for excluding Muslims.

“The nation belongs to Muslims as much as it does to others,” he said, adding that the Opposition was trying to confuse the citizens. “Muslims have as much rights as others have and the present government caters to minorities in the same way it does to the rest.”

Lok Janshakti Party leader Ram Vilas Paswan told PTI that Modi assured them that Muslims have equal rights in the country.

Minorities are as much “ours as other citizens are”, Modi said, according to another leader present at the meeting.

He asked the leaders of the ruling alliance to be on the front foot over the matter, and to take the Opposition head on, The Hindu reported.

The NDA parliamentarians passed a resolution supporting the controversial citizenship law, and praised Modi for taking various initiatives in the North East such as the Bodo peace accord, settlement of Bru tribe members in Tripura. They also applauded the prime minister for Kartarpur corridor opening and abrogation of Article 370 in Jammu and Kashmir.