Prime Minister Narendra Modi assured the citizens of the country that the controversial Citizenship Amendment Act does not take way away anybody’s citizenship, adding that a section of the youth is being misguided about the Act.

“CAA is not about taking away citizenship, it is about giving citizenship. Today, on National Youth Day, I would like to tell this to the youngsters of India, West Bengal, North East that this is not an overnight law for giving citizenship. We must all know that any person of any religion from any country of the world who believes in India and its Constitution can apply for Indian citizenship through due process. There’s no problem in that,” he told a gathering at Belur Math, the headquarters of Ramkrishna Mission.

Modi said even Mahatma Gandhi had favoured Indian citizenship to those fleeing religious persecution and that his government has only delivered on the wishes of the freedom fighters.

Referring to anti-CAA protests in the North East, Modi vowed to protect the distinct identity and culture of the people of the region, and asserted the new law will not hurt their interests. “We’ve only done what Mahatma Gandhi had said decades ago. Should we send these refugees back to die? Are they our responsibility or not? Should we make them our citizens or not?” he said, evoking a thunderous applause by the gathering.

Modi said some people with political interests are deliberately spreading rumours about the new citizenship law, despite “complete clarity” over the CAA. “Our initiative to amend the citizenship act has created a dispute. It is the result of our initiative that Pakistan will now have to answer why they have been persecuting minorities for the last 70 years. Human rights have been demolished in Pakistan,” he said.

Seeking to assuage the concerns of the people of the North East, Modi called the region “our pride”. “Their culture, traditions and demography remains untouched by this amended law,” he said.

He said the citizenship law was only “changed a little” for those who were ill-treated in Pakisan after Partition. “They were having a bitter time living there. Women were in danger of losing their pride,” he said.

“Young people have understood the whole thing, but those who want to indulge in politics over it will not,” he said.

Modi said five years ago, there was disappointment among the youth of the country, but the situation has changed now. “Not just India, the entire world has a lot of expectations from the youth of the country. The youth are not afraid of challenges....they challenge the challenges,” he said at the Belur Math, the abode of Swami Vivekananda for several years until his death in 1902, aged 39 years.

Tribute to Swami Vivekananda

Earlier in the day, PM Modi paid tributes to Swami Vivekananda on his birth anniversary at the Belur Math, the headquarters of Ramakrishna Mission, in Kolkata.

Modi, who became the first prime minister to stay overnight at the Math in neighbouring Howrah district, woke up early on Sunday and visited the temple of Swami Vivekananda to pay respect to the spiritual leader, Mission officials said. The Prime Minister visited the main temple building and paid tribute to Sri Ramakrishna Paramahansa, they said.

Swami Vivekananda’s birth anniversary is observed as the National Youth Day.

Modi, who is on a  two-day visit to Kolkata, was received by senior monks of the order after he reached Belur Math on Saturday evening.