Friends unhappy, stature diminished

Friends unhappy, stature diminished

As serious as its domestic consequences are the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) 2019’s damaging implications for India’s global image as a pluralist and inclusive democracy as well as its external relations, especially with its friends in the neighbourhood. The CAA provides for Indian citizenship to non-Muslims who fled alleged religious persecution in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Bangladesh before 2015, but denies the same opportunity to Muslims who, too, may have fled persecution. Accusing friendly neighbours Afghanistan and Bangladesh of religious persecution of non-Muslim minorities is foolish and counterproductive in terms of foreign policy. Thousands of Afghans, including Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs, have made India their home after escaping the Afghan civil war. Many of them are Tajiks, Hazaras and Uzbeks and they have played an important role in furthering India’s economic, geopolitical and strategic interests in Afghanistan. By implementing the CAA, New Delhi is alienating some its strongest supporters in Afghanistan and thus jeopardizing its national security interests.

As for Bangladesh, while legal and illegal migration has been an irritant in bilateral ties for decades, New Delhi and Dhaka wisely decided to set aside this nettlesome issue to strengthen cooperation on issues of convergence. Especially with the Awami League coming to power in 2008, bilateral ties deepened significantly. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has taken robust action against anti-India militants taking refuge or training on Bangladeshi soil. Her government has co-operated resolutely with India’s counter-terror objectives and also respected Indian concerns over China’s expanding footprint in Bangladesh. The National Register of Citizens and the CAA have serious and negative impact for Bangladesh. Dhaka will be right to ask, is this how India repays its friends?

At least two US panels, the Commission on International Religious Freedom and the House Foreign Affairs Committee, have been critical of India on the CAA. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and two Bangladeshi ministers have cancelled their visits to India. These visits are likely to be rescheduled and the government can be expected to treat these as temporary bumps in India’s engagement abroad. However, the CAA will have long-term damaging consequences for India’s global stature and influence. By discriminating against Muslims seeking refuge in India, the Modi government has dismantled the old Indian tradition of welcoming to our land all people who are fleeing persecution, irrespective of their religious beliefs or race. India cannot speak up any longer against violations by others of international covenants on human rights. It has lost its credibility to do so. The government’s use of force to crush protests against the CAA will only add to the world’s perception that India under Modi has turned into a chauvinist society and an intolerant and undemocratic State.

DH Newsletter Privacy Policy Get top news in your inbox daily
GET IT
Comments (+)