January 5, 2020 / 3:34 PM / 23 days ago

Indian government seeks to woo Bollywood stars as citizenship law protests rage on

MUMBAI (Reuters) - The Indian government invited numerous Bollywood stars and film industry personalities to a private gathering on Sunday in an effort to garner support for a new citizenship law that has triggered weeks of sometimes violent protests nationwide.

Demonstrators hold placards during a protest against a new citizenship law, in Mumbai, India, January 3, 2020. REUTERS/Francis Mascarenhas

At least 25 people have been killed so far in clashes with the police during five weeks of protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), which eases the path for non-Muslims in the neighboring Muslim-majority nations of Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh to gain Indian citizenship.

If combined with a proposed national register of citizens, critics of the CAA fear it will discriminate against India’s Muslim minority and chip away at its secular constitution.

Two industry sources told Reuters they had received invites to Sunday’s gathering at a five-star hotel in Mumbai. Roughly 20 to 25 people from both the Hindi and Marathi film industry are expected to attend the event, one of the sources said.

An invitation seen by Reuters said the event hosted by two senior leaders of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) aimed to “facilitate a discussion on myths and realities pertaining to the (CAA)”.

Wooing Bollywood stars, who have a huge social media following among Indians of all faiths, could help the BJP alter some of the negative narrative around the new law.

The law, and the outrage it has prompted, pose a dilemma for a film industry that has some big-name Muslim personalities, but caters predominantly to India’s majority Hindu population. A handful of Bollywood figures have condemned the CAA, while some others have faced criticism for not weighing in on the issue.

Modi, who spearheads the Hindu nationalist BJP, has often appeared alongside actors and film industry figures at public events. The industry has, in turn, produced films that some critics have said approached political endorsements.

On Saturday, more than 100,000 people took part in a peaceful protest against the CAA in the southern city of Hyderabad.

Further protests were planned on Sunday in Mumbai, New Delhi, Hyderabad, Bengaluru and several other Indian cities.

A source close to the BJP who is involved in organizing Sunday’s private gathering said several party leaders had been enlisted to help explain the rationale of the CAA to various professional groups such as lawyers.

Reporting by Shilpa Jamkhandikar and Promit Mukherjee in Mumbai; Writing by Euan Rocha; Editing by Gareth Jones

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