New Delhi: India on Tuesday sharply dismissed as neither “accurate" nor “warranted" a statement by US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), which described the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill (CAB) as a "dangerous turn in wrong direction" and sought American sanctions against home minister Amit Shah if the Bill is passed by Parliament.
The exchange adds to the air of tension between India and the US on a range of issues, including disputes over trade.
The USCIRF statement followed the Lok Sabha late on Monday passing the CAB that proposes giving Indian citizenship to Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis and Christians, who fled religious persecution in Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Afghanistan, and came to India on or before 31 December, 2014.
Three hundred and eleven members in the 545-member Lok Sabha voted in favour of the Bill, while 80 opposed it. It will now be tabled in the Rajya Sabha on Wednesday for approval.
"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," the commission suggested. "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," it added.
Recommendations of USCIRF are not enforceable. However, its recommendations are taken into consideration by the US government, in particular the state department, which is tasked with powers to take sanctionable actions against foreign entities and individuals for violation of religious freedom and human rights, a PTI report from Washington said.
In New Delhi, an Indian foreign ministry statement said the CAB “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."
Seeking to dispel misconceptions about the CAB, the Indian statement said the Bill “does not affect the existing avenues available to all communities interested in seeking citizenship from doing so. The recent record of granting such citizenship would bear out the Government of India’s objectivity in that regard."
“Neither the CAB nor the National Register of Citizens (NRC) process seeks to strip citizenship from any Indian citizen of any faith. Suggestions to that effect are motivated and unjustified. Every nation, including the United States, has the right to enumerate and validate its citizenry, and to exercise this prerogative through various policies," the Indian statement said.
The Trump administration in the US has not commented on the matter so far.
But the US Congress’ House (of Representatives) Foreign Affairs Committee in a post on Twitter said, “Religious pluralism is central to the foundations of both India and the United States and is one of our core shared values. Any religious test for citizenship undermines this most basic democratic tenet. #CABBill," — lending support to the USCIRF‘s remarks.
Earlier, the USCIRF had said the CAB carved out a path for awarding citizenship to immigrants, specifically excluding Muslims, setting a legal criterion for citizenship based on religion.