The US Commission for International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), the same body that had recommended denial of a tourist visa to for PM Modi after the Gujarat riots when he was the Gujarat Chief Minister, has once again gone out of its way in a desperate bid to meddle in India’s internal affairs. The Commission has issued a statement about the Citizenship Amendment Bill that was passed by the Lok Sabha yesterday. The USCIRF has stated that it was deeply disturbed by the passage of the Bill in the Lok Sabha. It added, “USCIRF is ‘deeply troubled’ by the passage of the CAB, originally introduced by Home Minister Shah, in the Lok Sabha given the religion criterion in the bill.”
The US body has also stated, “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.” It has gone even further with its propaganda and has even sought sanctions against Union Home Minister Amit Shah. The USCIRF has stated, “If the CAB passes in both Houses of Parliament, the US government should consider sanctions against the Home Minister Amit Shah and other principal leadership.”
This desperate appeal by the USCIRF to impose sanctions against Home Minister Shah reeks of sheer vendetta. The fact remains that the US religious freedom body was left red-faced after it was denied visa in 2016 by the Modi government had led to the body making embittered remarks against India.
The question which now arises is if the US will act on the recommendations of the US religious freedom body. The fact remains that unlike PM Modi who was the Chief Minister of Gujarat when the US religious freedom body had recommended that his visa should not be approved, Amit Shah is the Home Minister of India, arguably the second-most powerful individual in India.
Besides, Amit Shah is an elected MP in the world’s largest democracy. Currently, he is representing a government with a humungous, historic mandate. As such, he finds support beyond the BJP. Imposing sanctions against Shah, who is currently seen as the most powerful man in India after PM Modi will have a very negative impact on Indo-US relations that the US cannot afford at this juncture.
There is no occasion to see any threat in the CAB. Contrary to what the USCIRF has rumoured, the CAB does not violate the Constitution of India. The CAB is based upon sound legal principle of reasonable classification and as such it does not violate the equality clause enshrined under Article 14 of the Constitution, something that Home Minister Shah lucidly explained in the Parliament on Monday during the debate on CAB. As such it is not being imposed upon the country and was a part of BJP’s election manifesto. People voted overwhelmingly for the BJP based on the same manifesto. The CAB which is constitutionally valid also carries the will of the people as expressed by them during the Lok Sabha polls earlier this year.
The fact remains that the Indo-US relations have undergone a major transformation in the recent past. The Pentagon also admits that the Indo-US partnership has strengthened significantly over the last two decades, and also recognises the importance of trade relations and strategic deals between the two countries. As such, the US looks at India as an indispensable ally to check China’s rise across Asia and to that extent the US cannot afford to create an unnecessary point of confrontation over the Citizenship Amendment Bill just because a vindictive Commission deliberately misinterprets a completely innocuous piece of proposed legislation.
The fact remains that when the USCIRF had recommended the US government against approval to Modi’s tourist visa, he was the Gujarat CM and a leader of an opposition party. The political situation in India has changed upside down since then. Today, Union Home Minister Amit Shah is the No. 2 in the Modi government and also the President of the ruling BJP. The US currently enjoys warm relations with India, and the personal chemistry between PM Modi and US President Donald Trump has been at the core of strengthening of ties between the two countries. However, any ill-conceived move to impose sanctions on Home Minister Shah based on the Federal Commission’s recommendations will directly lead to souring of relations between the two countries, something that the US, for reasons aforesaid, cannot afford. Any misadventure or overreach on the part of the US will only backfire and prove counter-productive as far as Trump administration’s foreign policy is concerned.
The CAB is perfectly in line with the constitutional principles of India and as such an internal matter of India. What the USCIRF has therefore done is an example of unsophisticated and unwarranted meddling in the internal affairs of a sovereign country. If the US has to put sanctions on any leader, it must look for those leaders in Bangladesh and Pakistan who have systematically persecuted minority religions in those countries. India, on the other hand, is only saving those minority religious communities from continuous persecution in these Islamic countries.
India has already come down heavily on the USCIRF for its unwarranted and misleading remarks about the CAB. The Ministry of External Affairs has stated, “The statement made by the USCIRF on the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill is neither accurate nor warranted. The bill provides expedited consideration for Indian citizenship to persecuted religious minorities already in India from certain contiguous countries. It seeks to address their current difficulties and meet their basic human rights. Such an initiative should be welcomed, not criticized by those who are genuinely committed to religious freedom.”
We regret the inaccurate and unwarranted comments made by USCIRF on #CAB. They have chosen to be guided by their prejudices and biases on a matter on which they have little knowledge and no locus standi.
Read our full statement below ⬇️ pic.twitter.com/BLajy03MtZ
— Raveesh Kumar (@MEAIndia) December 10, 2019
The fact that this move comes days ahead of the 2+2 dialogue between India and the United States wherein the Defence and Foreign Ministers of the two countries will meet to discuss their strategic and security interests, might make the USCIRF’s outrageous recommendations even more suspicious for India, and it is time that the US makes it a point to take care of India’s concern by clearing the air around the highly objectionable and unacceptable proposal given by the US religious freedom body.