NEW DELHI — Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government has rounded up thousands of Muslims in Kashmir, revoked the area’s autonomy and enforced a citizenship test in northeastern India that left nearly two million people potentially stateless, many of them Muslim.
But it was Mr. Modi’s gamble to pass a sweeping new citizenship law that favors every South Asian faith other than Islam that has set off days of widespread protests.
The law, which easily passed both houses of Parliament last week, is the most overt sign, opponents say, that Mr. Modi intends to turn India into a Hindu-centric state that would leave the country’s 200 million Muslims at a calculated disadvantage.
Indian Muslims, who have watched anxiously as Mr. Modi’s government has pursued a Hindu nationalist program, have finally erupted in anger. Over the past few days, protests have broken in cities across the country.
Mumbai. Chennai. Varanasi. Guwahati. Hyderabad. Bhopal. Patna. Pondicherry. The disturbances keep spreading, and on Monday they tied up several areas of the capital, New Delhi.
Mr. Modi’s government has responded by calling out troops, shutting down the internet and imposing curfews, just as it did when it clamped down on Kashmir. In New Delhi, police officers beat unarmed students with wooden poles, dragging them away and sending scores to the hospital. In Assam, they shot and killed several young men.
India’s Muslims had stayed relatively quiet during the other recent setbacks, keenly aware of the electoral logic that has pushed them to the margins. India is about 80 percent Hindu, and 14 percent Muslim, and Mr. Modi and his party won a crushing election victory in May and handily control the Parliament.
But Indian Muslims are feeling increasingly desperate, and so are progressives, many Indians of other faiths, and those who see a secular government as fundamental to India’s identity and its future.
The world is now weighing in, too. United Nations officials, American representatives, international advocacy groups and religious organizations have issued scathing statements saying that the citizenship law is blatantly discriminatory. Some are even calling for sanctions.
Critics are deeply worried that Mr. Modi is trying to wrench India away from its secular, democratic roots and turn this nation of 1.3 billion people into a religious state, a homeland for Hindus.
“They want a theocratic state,’’ said B.N. Srikrishna, a former judge on India’s Supreme Court. “This is pushing the country to the brink, to the brink of chaos.”
“This is how waves of communal violence start in the country,” he added.
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