In the latter part of 2019 India passed a controversial law offering fast-track citizenship to non-Muslims from neighbouring Muslim-majority countries. For many this was a further indication that Prime Minister Modi was committed to redefining the country as a Hindu homeland.
India has been a secular country with a religiously diverse population and this move marks the first time that India has set religious criteria for citizenship. Its naturalisation process will give preference to Hindus over Muslims in a sign of the growing marginalisation of India’s largest minority.
As we start 2020 Microsoft chief executive Satya Nadella has criticised the new law that has the potential to fast-track citizenship for some immigrants from three neighbouring countries but not if they are Muslim.
“I think what is happening is sad, primarily as sort of someone who grew up there,” the Indian-born executive told BuzzFeed News at a Microsoft event in New York. “I think it’s just bad.” Nadella went on to say, “The good news, at least as I see it, is it’s a messy democracy and people are debating it. It’s not something that is hidden. It’s something that is being debated actively, but I’m definitely clear on what we stand for and what I stand for.”
Nadella, who grew up in the southern Indian city of Hyderabad before moving to the US, also reflected on his own experience as an immigrant. “If I had to sort of mirror what happened to me in the US, I hope that’s what happens in India,” he said.
The Citizenship Amendment Bill was passed by parliament in December. The bill would allow fast-track citizenship for certain religious minorities including Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsee and Christians from Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan, who arrived in India before 2015.
The legislation has been met with fierce opposition from critics and reopened the wounds from India’s traumatic independence from colonial rule in 1947 when, in a panic at the last-minute, Mountbatten the last Viceroy of India partitioned India into two separate states: Hindu-majority India and Muslim-majority Pakistan.
Pakistan’s founders explicitly defined their new nation as the natural home for the subcontinent’s Muslims. However, India’s independence leader, Mahatma Gandhi envisioned India as a secular state, where citizens of diverse faiths or no faith could live together as equals. Today some members of the minority religious group in India increasingly see themselves as second-class citizens.
The Indian government has fiercely defended the bill, saying it is intended to support religious minorities who are fleeing persecution in their home countries. This has done little to dispel the public outcry leaving at least 22 people dead.
Nadella also said, “I’m shaped by my Indian heritage, growing up in a multicultural India and my immigrant experience in the United States,” he said.
“My hope is for an India where an immigrant can aspire to establish a prosperous start-up or lead a multinational corporation benefiting Indian society and the economy at large.”
Meenakashi Lekhi, a spokesperson for Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party, pushed back against Nadella’s remarks. The reason for the citizenship law “is to grant opportunities to persecuted minorities from Bangladesh, Pakistan & Afghanistan,” she tweeted.
What is happening to India?
Gordon is the former president and chief executive of BMMI. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org