India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi 9
India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Image Credit: PTI

India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi has praised a controversial citizenship bill pending in Parliament at a rally in West Bengal state, kick-starting his Hindu nationalist party's campaign to retain power in general elections due by May.

In a speech broadcast live on Saturday, Modi urged the opposition Trinamool Congress party-led government of West Bengal to support the bill, saying, "My brothers and sisters here need it."

The bill, which passed the lower house of Parliament earlier this month, would give citizenship to some Hindus, Jains, Parsi and several other non-Muslim religious groups from Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Protests against the bill have rocked northeastern Indian states bordering Bangladesh.

The initiative is part of a Modi government effort to promote India as a sanctuary for persecuted Hindus globally.