India announces “citizenship law” rules that exclude Muslims

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government on Monday announced rules for implementing the 2019 Citizenship Act that excludes Muslims, weeks before the Hindu nationalist leader seeks a third term in office.

The CAA provides a fast track to naturalization for Hindus, Parsis, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains and Christians who fled to Hindu-majority India from Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan before December 31, 2014. The law excludes Muslims, who are the majority in the three countries.

The law was approved by the Indian Parliament in 2019, but the Modi government suspended its implementation after bloody protests broke out in the capital, New Delhi, and elsewhere. Dozens were killed during days of clashes.

Nationwide protests in 2019 attracted people of all faiths who said the law undermined India’s foundations as a secular nation. Muslims were particularly concerned that the government might use the law, along with a proposed national register of citizens, to marginalize them.

The National Register of Citizens is part of the Modi government’s efforts to identify and weed out people it claims have come to India illegally. The registry has only been implemented in the northeastern state of Assam, and the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party has promised to launch a similar citizenship verification program nationwide.

The Modi government has defended the Citizenship Act 2019 as a humanitarian gesture. It says the law is only intended to grant citizenship to religious minorities fleeing persecution and will not be used against Indian citizens.

There are 200 million Muslims living in India, who constitute a large minority in the country with a population of more than 1.4 billion people. They are spread across almost all of India, and have been targeted in a series of attacks since Modi first took power in 2014.

Critics say Modi’s apparent silence on anti-Muslim violence has emboldened some of his more extreme supporters and enabled more anti-Muslim hate speech.

Modi is increasingly mixing religion and politics in a formula that has resonated deeply with India’s Hindu majority.

Last January, he opened a Hindu temple on the site of a demolished mosque in the northern city of Ayodhya, in fulfillment of the Hindu nationalist pledge that his party has long adhered to.

Most opinion polls indicate that Modi will win a majority in the general elections scheduled for May.

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