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India Is Still Grappling With Mass Protests

Modi’s government is forced to go on the defensive amid unrest over controversial citizenship law.

By , an associate editor at Foreign Policy.
A protester takes part in a rally against India's new citizenship law in Bengaluru on Dec. 23.
A protester takes part in a rally against India's new citizenship law in Bengaluru on Dec. 23. MANJUNATH KIRAN/AFP via Getty Images

Here is today’s Foreign Policy brief: India’s ruling party goes on the defensive over its controversial citizenship law, Hong Kong’s protesters disrupt holiday shopping, and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu fends off a party challenger.

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India Still Facing Protests Over Citizenship Law

Mass protests against India’s new citizenship law are entering their third week, forcing Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) onto the defensive. The legislation, which offers a path to citizenship to non-Muslim immigrants from Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Afghanistan, has prompted widespread unrest: Students and activists—both Muslims and Hindus—have joined in, alleging that Modi’s government is violating the secular constitution. At least 25 people have been killed.

The divisive law could be losing Modi and his party support just months after the BJP won India’s general election in a landslide, the New York Times reports. Taking place in most major cities, the protests are the broadest rebuke that Modi has faced as prime minister—and they weren’t anticipated, according to party members. The BJP is now scrambling to control the backlash. More demonstrations are expected today, and the government has shut down the internet in major protest areas.

Seeking damages. One of India’s largest states, Uttar Pradesh, is now demanding that more than 200 protesters pay for damage done to public property during the demonstrations. It has also threatened to confiscate their property as punishment, leading activists to label it a “reign of terror.” (Uttar Pradesh is controlled by the BJP.) The state of Karnataka and its capital, Bengaluru, may follow suit.

What We’re Following Today

Hong Kong braces for fourth day of holiday protests. Pro-democracy protesters have targeted shopping malls across Hong Kong since Tuesday, clashing with riot police and disrupting the holiday period for shoppers, tourists, and businesses. The “shopping protests” this week have been more confrontational than those earlier in the month, after pro-democracy candidates scored a victory at the polls in Hong Kong’s local elections. On Thursday, some shops and restaurants closed preemptively as masked protesters arrived. Chief Executive Carrie Lam condemned the protests on Christmas Day.

Netanyahu fends off party challenger. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu won his Likud party’s leadership contest in a landslide on Thursday, dispatching his challenger, Gideon Saar, by 45 percent of the vote. (Around half of Likud’s 116,000 members turned out.) The victory reaffirmed Netanyahu’s power within the party, despite the challenges he faces: corruption charges and a third general election in a year. Though general support for Netanyahu is falling, polls suggest that Israel’s political deadlock might not be solved with another vote.

Iraq’s president threatens to resign amid turmoil. Iraqi President Barham Salih has refused to nominate an Iran-backed candidate, Asaad al-Edani, as prime minister amid weeks of political deadlock. Salih said that making Edani prime minister would not satisfy protesters after nearly three months of unrest: They have called for an independent prime minister without ties to the political elite. “Therefore I put my willingness to resign the post of president to members of parliament so that they decide as representatives of the people what they see fit,” he said.

Keep an Eye On

Bushfires in Australia. A severe heatwave is likely to exacerbate bushfire conditions in Australia this weekend, with a code red declared in the state of South Australia on Friday. Nearly 100 homes were destroyed and two firefighters killed battling blazes in New South Wales last week, prompting criticism of Prime Minister Scott Morrison, who was on vacation at the time.

 Salvini’s pasta wars. In Italy, food is at the center of a growing culture war waged by right-wing parties against multiculturalism. Matteo Salvini and his allies have vowed to defend traditional cuisine like lasagna and tortellini—made with pork in the original recipes—as a signifier of national identity, Giorgio Ghiglione writes for FP.

Stories you’ve missed. From chaos in Washington to protests in the Middle East, it’s been difficult to keep up with the biggest stories of the year—which have drowned out other, equally important stories. FP’s Robbie Gramer rounds up the 10 stories you might have missed in 2019, such as China’s space race and a devastating drought in southern Africa.

Odds and Ends

Japan’s national broadcaster, NHK, mistakenly issued an alert on Thursday saying that North Korea had launched a missile over Japanese territory. It was NHK’s second false alert in as many years. The incident comes amid widespread anticipation that North Korea will soon conduct a missile test as a provocation to the United States.

That’s it for today.

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Audrey Wilson is an associate editor at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @audreybwilson