The Lok Sabha passage of the constitutionally iffy Citizenship Amendment Bill (CAB) was bound to raise eyebrows in other parts of the world, and it has. The US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) has taken a grim view of the Bill’s provisions, and even raised the possibility of recommending US sanctions against its champion in the Lok Sabha, our home minister, if it is enacted. According to a press note released by the US agency, the bill amounts to a “dangerous turn in the wrong direction" and runs contrary to the secular values enshrined in India’s Constitution. The USCIRF has expressed deep concern over the use of religious identity as a legal criterion for citizenship.
The USCIRF is a bipartisan body that operates independent of the US government. It was set up by the International Religious Freedom Act (IRFA) of 1998 under Bill Clinton’s presidency, with the aim of elevating the human right to religious freedom as a key component of US foreign policy. Although the agency is empowered to monitor, analyze and report on threats to religious freedom abroad, it cannot take any action (but only recommend it). Given that the current occupant of the White House, Donald Trump, has himself tried using religious identity to modify US visa policy, it seems unlikely that the USCIRF would have his ear on India’s CAB.
Yet, Indian diplomats may have a challenge on their hands just for the opinion that the USCIRF can sway. After the abrogation of Article 370, India’s record on human rights in Jammu and Kashmir has already drawn global attention. The CAB, seen in conjunction with India’s proposed National Register of Citizens, could place the country in the glare of foreign scrutiny. India is a sovereign country, and has the right to rule itself. But we need good global relations, and these are partly a function of how the rest of the world sees us.