India News - Protests a bolt from the blue, say Modi aides

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Aden - Yasmine El Tohamy - India's Home Minister Amit Shah.- ANI photo

At least 21 people have died in clashes with police.

Huge protests in India against a citizenship law seen by many as anti-Muslim wrong-footed Prime Minister Narendra Modi and sent his Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) scrambling to douse the anger.

In Modi's biggest challenge since taking office in 2014, hundreds of thousands have rallied against the law offering citizenship to immigrants from non-Muslim minorities who have fled Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan. At least 21 people have died in clashes with police.

BJP leaders were taken aback by the backlash, some party members said. Now they are reaching out for help in defusing the crisis to allies and opponents sidelined when the bill passed earlier this month, the sources said.

"I really did not see the protests coming. Other BJP lawmakers were also unable to predict this kind of anger," said Sanjeev Balyan, a junior federal minister.

While there is no threat to his big parliamentary majority, the 69-year-old Modi's image as a master strategist with his finger on the pulse of the people has taken a hit.

Three other BJP lawmakers and two federal ministers said they were mobilising party supporters from all walks of life to start community dialogues and dispel discontent over the law.

They said they had been prepared for some anger from Muslims, but not the widespread protests that have convulsed most major cities for nearly two weeks.

"I believe that the political math behind the clearance of this law was not taken into account," said one of the federal ministers, an apparent reference to lack of consultation with allies and opposition parties.

Home Minister Amit Shah, widely seen as the second most powerful man in the country, repeated in a television interview on Tuesday that Muslims had no cause for worry.

"We are all in damage control mode," said the other federal minister.

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