New citizenship law lets down India’s diplomacy

Deccan Chronicle.

Opinion, DC Comment

In the backdrop of the government’s fishy assertions, the foreign minister of Bangladesh cancelled a scheduled visit to this country.

National Register of Citizens (NRC).

While creating social and political fissures in the country — as postulated in the writings of Hindutva ideologues — through the Citizenship Amendment Act and the National Register of Citizens that seeks to weed out “infiltrators” and “termites”, the authors of these dangerous measures have also given evidence of their diplomatic illiteracy. Consequently, India’s neighbourhood policy has been damaged. Besides, this country’s international policy framework, which underlines equality and humanism and has brought it laurels, is now seen as severely compromised. Piloting the CAB in Parliament, Union home minister Amit Shah had attacked handpicked countries with a rare — and uninformed — zeal for persecuting their religious minorities (mainly Hindus and Sikhs), from which he drew his premise that India was duty-bound to offer instant citizenship to these minorities. He offered no data to back up his claim that illegal immigrants from Afghanistan, Pakistan and Bangladesh were indeed fleeing religious persecution. There seems to be nil data on how many people were fleeing to India from these countries.

In the backdrop of the government’s fishy assertions, the foreign minister of Bangladesh cancelled a scheduled visit to this country. That country’s home minister, due to come on a personal trip, also cancelled. There is understandable concern in Bangladesh about being unfairly accused of religious persecution by New Delhi. The facts, as presented by the government in Parliament, simply don’t stand up. In Bangladesh, sectarian outfits have occasionally sought to trigger anti-minority sentiment, but this isn’t official policy. The situation is little different from what exists in India. If anything, Bangladesh has sought to aggressively curb anti-Hindu tendencies among its extremists. By any yardstick, Bangladesh is now India’s most valued neighbour. But due to the Citizenship Amendment Act, it has been deeply aggrieved by New Delhi.

Why our home minister brought in Afghanistan within the CAA’s ambit is a mystery. That country wasn’t a part of British India whose Partition in 1947 had no bearing on Afghanistan. Afghanistan has no record of religious persecution of Hindus and Sikhs (infinitesimally small minorities). India has enjoyed enormous goodwill in post-Taliban Afghanistan, whose strategic significance is not lost on policy circles here. We may have badly put off a neighbour that respects us. In Pakistan too, the most zealot Muslim baiter in India will be hard put to build a narrative of religious persecution of Hindus and Sikhs as official policy, though there have been cases of razing of temples (often in response to attacks on Muslims in India) and forced conversions. But these are commonly dealt with through the legal system.

Japanese PM Shinzo Abe has cancelled a summit with PM Narendra Modi as anti-CAB violence rocked the Northeast. External affairs minister S. Jaishankar is to fly to Washington to mollify the US Congress, where many have taken a strident anti-India posture on the Citizenship Amendment Act. Through this, we have deeply disturbed very friendly countries, especially neighbours, and have given China a freer hand to operate in our backyard.

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