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India moves before election on citizenship law opposed by Muslims

March 11, 2024 at 4:39 pm

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi speaks during the World Governments Summit 2024 in Dubai, United Arab Emirates on February 14, 2024. [Waleed Zein – Anadolu Agency]

India announced rules on Monday to implement a 2019 citizenship law that critics call anti-Muslim, weeks before Prime Minister Narendra Modi seeks a rare third term for his Hindu nationalist government, Reuters has reported.

The Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) grants Indian nationality to Hindus, Parsis, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains and Christians who fled to Hindu-majority India from Muslim-majority Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan before 31 December 2014.

Modi’s government had not crafted implementation rules for the law, after protests and sectarian violence broke out in New Delhi and elsewhere within weeks of the law’s December 2019 enactment. Scores of people were killed and hundreds were injured during days of fighting.

“The Modi government announces the implementation of the Citizenship Amendment Act,” a spokesperson for the prime minister’s office said in a text message. “It was an integral part of the BJP’s 2019 manifesto. This will pave [the] way for the persecuted to find citizenship in India.” He referred to the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP’s) 2019 election manifesto.

A Home Ministry spokesperson said that the rules will enable those eligible under CAA-2019 to apply for Indian citizenship. Applications can be submitted online via a web portal provided.

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Muslim groups say that the law, combined with a proposed national register of citizens, can discriminate against India’s 200 million Muslims, the world’s third-largest Muslim population. They fear that the government might remove citizenship from Muslims without documents in some border states.

The government denies that it is anti-Muslim and says that the law is needed to help minorities facing persecution in Muslim-majority nations. It explains that the law is meant to grant citizenship, not take it away from anyone, and has called the earlier protests politically motivated.

Modi swept to power in 2014 and has consolidated his hold since with a focus on growth and welfare economics, boosting infrastructure and aggressive Hindu nationalism.

Opinion polls suggest that he will “comfortably” win a majority in the general election that must be held by May.

The main opposition Congress Party said that Monday’s announcement was motivated by the approaching election. “After seeking nine extensions for the notification of the rules, the timing right before the election is evidently designed to polarise the voters, especially in West Bengal and Assam,” said Congress spokesperson Jairam Ramesh on X.

The eastern states of West Bengal and Assam are home to large Muslim populations and witnessed protests against the CAA as some Muslims feared that the law could be used to declare them illegal immigrants from neighbouring Bangladesh and take away their Indian citizenship.

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