Certain resolutions against the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) have been tabled in the European parliament, which are based entirely on misinformation and mischievous propaganda.
It has been alleged that the CAA has the potential to create the “largest statelessness crisis in the world” even though it only seeks to protect the oppressed religious minorities in our neighbouring countries and is in no way directed against Muslims in India. In fact, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has clarified in Parliament that the CAA would have no impact on any Indian citizen of any faith and that it does not harm minority interests in keeping with the country's strong commitment to democracy and secular values.
This move was instigated by UK's outgoing Pakistani origin MEP Shaffaq Mohammad solely with the intention of causing embarrassment to India since the resolutions adopted by the EU Parliament are non-binding and non-enforceable in nature. Fortunately, better sense has prevailed and the voting has been put off until the next month after Modi's visit to Brussels for the forthcoming India-EU summit. This has given India time to explain in detail the rationale and constitutionality of the CAA, which seems to have created a better and more judicious understanding in Europe on this issue. External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar’s meeting with his EU counterpart Josep Borell last month went off well. In any event, with the UK’s exit from the EU, many members actively pursuing the resolutions are no longer there and hopefully the parliament will take a more balanced position on the subject.
Notably, the European Commission has distanced itself from the move in the parliament and many MEPs have forcefully argued it was an internal matter of India. Lok Sabha Speaker Om Birla has also drawn the attention of the European Parliament to the fact that the CAA was passed by the Indian Parliament following the due process of law which deserves to be shown respect and understanding. Criticism by outsiders, particularly by close friends such as the EU that is not borne out of facts, is tantamount to insensitivity and even interference in India's internal affairs.
Religious persecution suffered by Hindus and Sikhs in Pakistan and Bangladesh has been extensively researched and well documented. Amnesty International has highlighted the incidents of human rights abuses against them. In Bangladesh, the percentage of Hindus has steadily declined and reduced to the level of around 6% from nearly 25% at the time of Partition in 1947. In Pakistan, Hindus have been reduced to a mere 1% of the country’s population. The horror stories of properties being set on fire, killings, rape, looting, forced conversions and harassment that Hindus have been subjected to in Bangladesh over the years have been narrated to us first-hand at the Antar Rashtriya Sahyog Parishad by numerous delegations of Bangladeshi-Hindus. Many Hindus opted to remain in East Pakistan at the time of Partition but their hopes of receiving a fair and equitable treatment there were systematically eroded due to oppression and injustice. This forced many of them to flee to India over the last several decades.
Acknowledging this is in no way meant to be a criticism of the present Awami League government in Bangladesh, which remains committed to secular principles. In fact, on several occasions, Hindus have been targeted by the BNP and Jamaat mobs merely because of their perceived support for the League.
The issue of persecution of Hindus in Pakistan and Bangladesh has been a subject of extensive debate and reflection in India. In a sense, the problem is seen by many as a legacy of our Partition imposed by the British on their departure from India and ensuing large-scale transfer of population resulting in enormous loss of lives and dislocation. Even Jawahar Lal Nehru, India's first Prime Minister, had expressed deep concern over the condition of Hindus and Sikhs in Pakistan. The CAA is meant to partly rectify that festering problem by accepting some responsibility towards the Hindus and Sikhs left behind in Muslim Pakistan after Partition.
Our law has a provision for citizenship by naturalisation but that is not available to illegal immigrants. CAA changes the law on citizenship by naturalisation by providing immunity to some people (members of persecuted religious minorities in Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan) from being regarded as ‘illegal immigrants’ and reducing the time required by them to acquire citizenship. The question of who this dispensation would apply to is a sovereign matter solely for India to decide keeping in view its socio-security considerations.
A number of issues have been raised by CAA critics on its constitutionality. Arguments being advanced are completely baseless and appear politically motivated, designed to wrongfully malign the present government and tarnish India’s image and reputation globally.
Article 15 of the Constitution in the fundamental rights chapter, which prohibits any discrimination on the grounds of religion, has been quoted by opponents but it must be noted that it only applies to citizens. Thus, the issue of non-citizens claiming non-discrimination under its provisions simply does not arise. Article 14 of the Constitution does provide for equality before the law to all persons residing in India but even there reasonable classification for the purpose of legislation is allowed, provided such a classification is reasonable. It is perfectly all right to make such a dispensation in respect of the persecuted minorities in the three countries in order to provide them the requisite protection and dignity.
India shares an important relationship with the EU and its constituents. Both India and Europe are fully aware of the evolving global geo-political dynamics that has brought India closer to Europe than never before. In a study by Delhi-based ‘Foundation for National Security Research’, France, Germany and the UK were placed among India’s top six strategic partners worldwide from the standpoint of defence, security, economic linkages as well as political-diplomatic cooperation.
The EU is also one of India’s largest trading partners, with the annual trade and services turnover exceeding $125 billion. We have longstanding shared values and interests based on our commitment to democracy and rules-based international order. But despite overall positive sentiments, the relationship has not achieved its full potential. The trade and investment agreement, which has been under negotiation since 2007, is yet to be finalised.
There has been some anxiety in Europe as in other parts of the world over China’s predatory investments in strategic assets. China’s hyper-activism, especially in central and east European countries now part of the EU, seems to be a cause of particular concern to it. This calls for accelerated efforts on India's part to strengthen its linkages in Europe. There are already reports of new trade inquiries being directed to Indian manufacturers from Europe in the field of textiles, ceramics,construction tiles and homeware in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak in China.
Modi’s visit to Brussels next month should provide an opportunity for both India and the EU to revive their strategic partnership, which was announced in 2004 but which does not seem to have made much headway. India has a robust economic and strategic engagement with Germany, France and several other EU member-countries and there is no reason why this solidity should not be reflected in India’s ties with the EU as a whole and the mischievous anti-CAA resolutions in the European parliament should not be allowed to cast a shadow on the growth of these beneficial ties.
(The writer is a former IFS officer and Indian Ambassador to several countries. He is currently president of the Antar Rashtriya Sahyog Parishad NGO. Views are personal.)