Citizenship (Amendment) Bill: After Article 370, India faces a new diplomatic challenge

Citizenship (Amendment) Bill: After Article 370, India faces a new diplomatic challenge

New Delhi grapples with diplomatic and logistical fallout of Citizenship (Amendment) Bill on relations with Bangladesh and Afghanistan as well as coming visit of Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe

In the wake of a statement from United States Congress members on the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill (CAB), the Government of India has spoken to lawmakers across parties in Washington to explain its position, the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) said on Thursday, even as New Delhi grapples with the diplomatic and logistical fallout of the Bill on relations with Bangladesh and Afghanistan as well as the coming visit of Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar and Defence Minister Rajnath Singh will be travelling to Washington for “2+2” talks on December 18, where they are expected to deal with some of the concerns raised.

The MEA said it had noted a statement from the bipartisan House Foreign Affairs Committee that said, referring to the CAB, any “religious test for citizenship” would undermine Indian democracy.

Earlier, the MEA had reacted strongly to the Commission for International Religious Freedom, a quasi-official organisation in the U.S., favouring sanctions against Home Minister Amit Shah and other senior leadership if the amendment Bill facilitating citizenship for members of several religions, barring Islam, who faced persecution in Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan, went through.

Shortly after the Bill was cleared in the Rajya Sabha on Wednesday evening, Congressman Andre Carson issued a statement criticising Prime Minister Narendra Modi for what he called a “draconian” Bill, which attempts to “reduce Muslims in India to second class citizens.”

MEA spokesperson Raveesh Kumar on Thursday said, “We have reached out to the members of the U.S. Congress and to other stakeholders to share our perspective on the Bill. We feel that given our strong engagement with the U.S. Congress and others within the U.S., we do expect that the Congress members will take into account our views before taking a position on the Bill.”

Former diplomats feel the CAB issue will add to the already mounting pressure from the situation in Kashmir, which has resulted in the introduction of first U.S. House resolution criticising India on J&K in decades. “Our global image as a constitutional democracy wedded to protecting the rights of all our citizens in every part of our country is undergoing a rather unpleasant stress test,” former Ambassador to the U.S. Nirupama Rao told The Hindu.

The violence that has erupted in Assam and other parts of the Northeast have cast a shadow over the coming visit of Mr. Abe. He is due to land in Guwahati on Sunday for meetings with Mr. Modi that would focus on Japan’s investment in the region. The MEA said it had “no update” on the venue for the visit at present but officials said the alternative of holding the annual summit in Delhi was being discussed.

Imran Khan’s tweet

The Government of India also hit out at Pakistan and its Prime Minister Imran Khan’s tweet accusing the Modi government of furthering a “Hindu supremacist agenda” with the passage of the CAB. “Instead of casting aspersions on others, Pakistan needs to look inwards and ensure protection and promotion of the right of its minorities,” said the MEA spokesperson. He referred to Pakistan’s blasphemy laws and “discriminatory” Constitution along with the state’s failure to protect girls from minority communities from “rape, abduction forced conversions and marriages”.

Apart from critical comments from Islamabad, the government also had to field offended sentiments amongst friendly governments in Dhaka and Kabul that objected to the CAB’s description of “religious persecution of minorities” in Bangladesh and Afghanistan.

In an interview to India Today TV, Afghanistan envoy Tahir Qadry said Afghanistan should not be clubbed with Pakistan, and that the Ghani government had tried to ensure full representation and rights for minorities in Afghanistan.

Bangladesh Foreign Minister AK Abdul Momin, who cancelled his visit to Delhi at the last minute on Thursday evening, also criticised the description.

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