Union minister Ravi Shankar Prasad said on Saturday that the government was ready to speak to the protestors at Shaheen Bagh in New Delhi but it should be in a “structured manner”. Hundreds of women, with children, have been protesting against the Citizenship Amendment Act at Shaheen Bagh over the last month and a half, and have refused to accede to police requests to budge from the place.

Prasad made the remark on Wednesday in a programme on India TV, but tweeted his comments only on Saturday. Asked about the Shaheen Bagh protests by a demonstrator, the minister said the protestors were free to carry on. Prasad said the government was ready to speak to the protestors, but members of the Muslim community had set a condition that the Centre should first withdraw the Citizenship Amendment Act.

“If they want that the government should hold talks with them, a structured request should be made,” the minister of law and justice said. Prasad alleged that the protestors at Shaheen Bagh misbehave with anybody who goes there to have a discussion with them. He said that talks between the government and the protestors cannot take place at Shaheen Bagh itself.

On Friday, Prasad, tweeting a clip from the same event, said that it is heartening to see that some members of the Muslim community say they do not oppose the Citizenship Amendment Act. “I urged them to explain this to those members of the Muslim community who are protesting against it,” he said.

BJP’s belligerent rhetoric against Shaheen Bagh

However, the Bharatiya Janata Party’s rhetoric on the Shaheen Bagh protestors has been far from conciliatory so far. Union Home Minister Amit Shah raised the bogey of protests at Shaheen Bagh on Thursday, during a rally in Chhatarpur in New Delhi on Thursday. The Delhi Assembly polls will be held on February 8, and the results declared on February 11.

“On February 8, you will be deciding who should form the government in Delhi,” Shah told the audience. “On the one side it’s [Prime Minister] Narendra Modi, who conducted airstrikes and surgical strikes on Pakistan’s soil to kill terrorists, and on the other, there are these people who back Shaheen Bagh [the ruling Aam Aadmi Party]. You have to decide.”

In earlier rallies, Shah had asked people to vote for the Bharatiya Janata Party so that there will “never be a Shaheen Bagh” in Delhi. Last week, Delhi Deputy Chief Minister Manish Sisodia had said in an interview that he backs the protestors.

On Friday, Delhi BJP chief Manoj Tiwari claimed that the teenager who opened fire outside Jamia Millia Islamia University on Thursday was either a supporter of the Aam Aadmi Party or a protestor from Shaheen Bagh. BJP National General Secretary Tarun Chugh on Wednesday defended the idea of “shooting traitors”, and referred to the Shaheen Bagh protestors of Delhi as an “Islamic State-like module”. He referred to the locality as “Shaitaan Bagh”, or the devil’s place.

On January 29, West Bengal BJP President Dilip Ghosh wondered why nobody had died at Shaheen Bagh, despite the cold weather in Delhi. “Women and children are sitting in temperatures as low as 4-5 degrees Celsius but nobody is dying!” he said. “What nectar did they have? I am astonished! What is their incentive?”

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. Twenty-six people died in last month’s protests against the law – all in the BJP-ruled states of Uttar Pradesh, Karnataka, and Assam. On Tuesday, two protestors died in protests in Trinamool Congress-ruled West Bengal.