U.S. panel recommends sanctions against Indian ministers over legislation to strip Muslims of citizenship

522663_59560699NEW DELHI (Reuters) – The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) has recommended the United States to weigh sanctions against India’s Home Minister Amit Shah and other principal leadership, if the south Asian nation adopts legislation to exclude Muslims from a path to citizenship for religious minorities from its neighbours through passage of the Citizenship Amendment Bill (CAB).

“If the CAB passes in both houses of parliament, the United States government should consider sanctions against the Home Minister and other principal leadership,” the panel said in a statement, referring to the Citizenship Amendment Bill (CAB).

The U.S. Commission said, “The CAB is a dangerous turn in the wrong direction; it runs counter to India’s rich history of secular pluralism and the Indian Constitution, which guarantees equality before the law regardless of faith.”

The statement noted that CAB was originally introduced by Shah in the Lok Sabha and was deeply troubled by its religion criterion, a reference to the proposed exclusion of Muslim undocumented migrants from being granted citizenship. In this respect, the USCIRF said CAB “enshrines a pathway to citizenship for immigrants that specifically excludes Muslims, setting a legal criterion for citizenship based on religion”.

It feared that in conjunction with the ongoing National Register of Citizens (NRC) process in Assam and the nationwide NRC that “the Home Minister seeks to propose”, the Indian government is creating a religious test for Indian citizenship that would strip millions of Muslims of citizenship.

“The Lok Sabha had first passed the CAB in January 2019, but due to protests, the government withdrew it before it could be voted on by the Rajya Sabha. The BJP included the passage of the CAB as part of its manifesto released ahead of its overwhelming electoral victory in May 2019,” it noted.

The panel is a bipartisan body that makes foreign policy recommendations to the U.S. leadership.

The USCIRF consists of appointees by US President Donald Trump and majority and minority leaders of both Houses of US Congress.

Shah is a close associate of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, whose Hindu nationalist-led government is seen by critics as pushing an agenda that undermines the secular foundations of India’s democracy.

NRCOn Tuesday, parliament’s lower house approved the measure covering citizenship for non-Muslim minorities, specifically Buddhists, Christians, Hindus, Jains, Parsis and Sikhs, who fled Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan before 2015.

The bill has prompted criticism at home and abroad, as it marks the first time India is weighing religion in granting citizenship, although it must first pass the upper house of parliament, where Modi’s party lacks a majority.

The measure goes against India’s constitution, which guarantees legal equality to people of all faiths, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom said.

India’s foreign ministry called the panel’s statement inaccurate, saying the bill sought to help persecuted religious minorities already in the country.

“It seeks to address their current difficulties and meet their basic human rights,” said ministry spokesman Raveesh Kumar. India’s opposition parties, minority groups and academics have said the bill discriminates against Muslims.

During Monday’s parliament debate, opposition politician Asaduddin Owaisi ripped up a copy of the bill, calling it a move by the Modi government to render Muslims “stateless”.

But Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which promised the measure in an election campaign that swept it to power in May, says the law is needed to help persecuted minority individuals in its neighbours.

“If minorities in our neighboring countries are being persecuted, then India cannot stay a silent spectator,” Shah told parliament.

The bill is the third key election promise Modi’s government has delivered since August.

The scrapping of autonomy for the Himalayan region of occupied Kashmir and permission from India’s top court for moves to build a Hindu temple at a religious site where Babri Mosque was built have bolstered right-wing supporters, and diverted attention from a slowing economy.

The BJP aims to win support from smaller regional groups to push the bill through the upper house of parliament this week.

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