NEW DELHI (Reuters) - Indian police on Tuesday arrested a university student who has been involved in organising protests against a contentious citizenship law after he made comments that the ruling Hindu nationalist party said were seditious.
Sharjeel Imam shot to national prominence when he helped to organise a mass sit-in in New Delhi, one of many rallies staged over more than a month against a new citizenship law that the protesters say discriminates against Muslims.
The 31-year-old history student further angered nationalists in the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) with what they said was a seditious call for the restive northeastern region of Assam to be “cut” from the rest of the country.
Last week, Sambit Patra, a BJP spokesman, described Imam’s comment as a call for “open jihad”. The BJP has sought to depict him as a dangerous rebel in national media and in party rallies ahead of a state election in New Delhi on Feb. 8.
Speaking to Reuters shortly before he was arrested in the eastern state of Bihar, Imam, a Muslim, said he had only called for railway and road links to Assam to be disrupted as part of the ongoing campaign of protests against the citizenship law.
Imam also said the BJP was trying to vilify him in order to discredit the largely leaderless protest movement ahead of the Delhi state election.
“They want to discredit educated Muslims who speak up,” said Imam, a student at Delhi’s Jawaharlal Nehru University, known for its leftist activism and opposition to the BJP government.
Police officer Rajesh Deo said Imam had been found after a three-day search in Bihar and would be moved to Delhi to face charges of sedition.
In a statement, Imam’s lawyers said he was fully cooperating with the investigation.
The citizenship law aims to fast-track Indian citizenship for non-Muslim minorities from three neighbouring countries.
Many Indians say the law is discriminatory against the country’s large Muslim minority and violates the country’s secular constitution.
Additional reporting by Saurabh Sharma in LUCKNOW; Editing by Gareth Jones