Delhi warned of huge reputational damage from USCIRF report

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DM Monitoring

NEW DELHI: An influential American faith rights organization has called for India to be globally blacklisted over its “concerning” breaches of religious freedoms, particularly for Muslims. The findings of a damning report by the US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) would cause “huge reputational damage” for New Delhi, political analysts told Arab News on Wednesday.
The USCIFR claimed that following the massive election victory of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in 2019, the national government had “used its strengthened parliamentary majority to institute national-level policies violating religious freedom across India, especially for Muslims.”
And the watchdog went as far as recommending “targeted sanctions on Indian government agencies and officials responsible for severe violations of religious rights.”
But in a statement on Tuesday, India’s Foreign Ministry said: “We reject the observations on India in the USCIRF annual report. Its biased and tendentious comments against India are not new.” The ministry added that India would “treat it accordingly.”
Manoj Joshi, of New Delhi-based think tank the Observer Research Foundation (ORF), said: “Such reports have value, but whether it will influence government policy, I doubt. India has suffered huge reputational damage on this issue.”
In its report the USCIRF, a bipartisan panel on religious freedom, described India as “a country of particular concern.”
It singled out the controversial Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), passed in December last year, which aims to give citizenship to minorities from neighboring Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan, but excludes Muslims. The CAA is part of a proposed plan to introduce a National Register of Citizens (NRC) to identify “genuine citizens of India.”
Muslims fear that if their names do not feature on the NRC, they will be rendered stateless.
In a tweet on Tuesday, Nadine Maenza, vice chair of the USCIRF, said: “(The CAA) potentially exposes millions of Muslims to detention, deportation, and statelessness when the government completes its planned nationwide NRC.”
Zikra Mojibi, a Delhi-based student activist who was part of the nationwide anti-CAA protests earlier this year, told Arab News: “The US report is timely and exposes the ugly facet of modern-day India. I would have liked the USCIRF to mention the role of the Indian media in perpetuating the emotional and physical violence in India, too.
“It’s true that today Muslims in India live in fear of being declared stateless and relegated to being second-class citizens. Muslims have never lived in this kind of fear before.”
She said the report came at a time when “the government is using the lockdown period in pursuing its divisive political agenda by detaining hundreds of young Muslim students who participated in the protest against the citizenship law.”
Zafarul Islam Khan, chairman of the Delhi Minority Commission, said the US report showed that India was “not going in the right direction and the majoritarian agenda of the Modi regime is damaging the image and reputation of the country in the world.
“Now the whole world is commenting on India’s divisive politics, and it is high time the BJP government does some course correction. India shares a good relationship with the US and if it is saying something it should listen,” Khan told Arab News.
Pranay Kotasthane, of the Bengaluru-based think tank the Takshashila Institution, said the report could potentially damage relations between the two countries.
“To the extent that the report leads to new rounds of allegations and counter-allegations, it does affect the relationship. It can potentially derail a few initiatives in the short run.
But the long-term relationship will be determined by a convergence of national interests of the US and India,” he added.
He pointed out that for now India’s principal challenge would be “to overcome the twin crises of public health and economic downturn.”
Kotasthane added: “All other issues are distractions at this point. Under these trying circumstances, India should stop all such projects such as the CAA, NRC, and NPR that have the slightest potential of breaking social harmony, regardless of what the USCIRF says.”