Prime Minister Narendra Modi this week tried to put a positive spin on the nationwide opposition to the changes his government made to the Citizenship Act. He claimed that the dispute over the amendments, which many believe will be used by Modi’s Hindu nationalist government to harass Indian Muslims, had drawn the world’s attention to Pakistan’s record on religious minorities.
“Had we not amended the citizenship law, this dispute would not have arisen,” Modi said on Sunday. “Had this dispute not arisen, the world would not have known the kind of atrocities that were perpetrated on [religious] minorities in Pakistan.”
Is that true?
There has been a lot of curiosity about the Citizenship Act amendments all over the world, at least when it comes to media coverage. However, this has almost all focused on looking at India’s treatment of minorities – not Pakistan’s.
“As protests rage on Citizenship Bill, is India becoming a Hindu nation?” asked a piece in the New York Times. Said the London-based Times, “India’s citizenship test unleashes Muslim despair and fury.” Said the headline in Israel’s Ha’aretz, “Modi’s malignant anti-Muslim vision for India is becoming reality.”
In some cases, there were global articles providing the Indian government’s perspective on the changes to the Citizenship Act, but even these did not bring any sort of focus to Pakistan.
Indeed, because it comes soon after the government’s decision to strip autonomy from Jammu and Kashmir – India’s only Muslim-majority state – and make it a Delhi-controlled Union territory in 2019, coverage around the world has focused on Modi’s treatment of India’s minorities.
Among New Delhi’s attempts to change this view last week was its decision to take 15 ambassadors on a “guided tour” of Kashmir, where civil liberties of people are still curtailed, five months after autonomy was stripped. It seemed like a major coup that the American ambassador was willing to go along for the tour, even as the European Union envoys refused. But shortly after the trip, the US State Department made it clear that India’s pretense of normalcy in Kashmir was not working.
More than anything, Modi’s remarks claim that his efforts have brought glory to India abroad and turned other countries against Pakistan seem aimed largely at a domestic audience. But they are inaccurate. While Pakistan’s image in the global community is hardly golden, after a period of trying to pull away from the country, the US has once again started engaging with Islamabad’s military. It has even resumed training the Pakistan military.
As American Enterprise Institute Fellow Sadanand Dhume explains, “The Modi government has dented India’s reputation for treating people of all faiths equally, embarrassed friends in Bangladesh and Afghanistan, riled important members of the US Congress, and generated an avalanche of criticism in the global press.” Despite this, Modi manages to convince many Indians that his international image has actually improved.
The prime minister’s remarks also rely heavily on a strawman argument: he wants Indians to believe that the protesters who want a rollback of the Citizenship Act do not consider Pakistan’s treatment of minorities problematic. In reality, the protesters are simply worried that the Citizenship Act combined with the National Register of Citizens will make India a discriminatory regime that mistreats its own minorities.
Pakistan barely comes up in the protests – it is Modi’s treatment of India Muslims that is the issue. Author Chetan Bhagat explained this last year, with CAA referring to the Citizenship Act and NRC being the National Register of Citizens:
It isn’t surprising that Modi and his party would once again rely on demonising Pakistan in the hope of winning an argument. It is a tactic that has worked over and over for the ruling party. But eventually, at least some of the people will see through the facade – as they have with the government’s lies about NRC – and realise that, far from turning a spotlight on India’s neighbour, Modi has drawn global scrutiny of his own discriminatory actions.