From India to US, a citizenship crisis is burning across the world

Dispiriting reading:

Across the world, there are fires burning and they are not only climate-change induced or climate threatening. The concept of who is a citizen of a nation and what are their rights has become a burning topic.

Under President Jair Bolsonaro, Brazilians who are Amazonian Indians are increasingly under threat. In Bolivia, the fall of leader Evo Morales has disenfranchised indigenous Bolivians. Many living under US President Donald Trump are worried about their lives and the well-being of their families, and fear deportation despite being an integral part of American socioeconomics.

As Brexit looms, there is trepidation among many Europeans who have made Britain their home. The Roma in many parts of Europe continue to face persecution from their governments.

There are upheavals in the middle economies of the world too, with millions in Hong Kong and tens of millions in India facing an uncertain future. The unfulfilled obligations in the 1984 Sino-British Joint Declaration and the Hong Kong government’s increasing coordination with Beijing has unsettled many citizens of the special administrative region.

In India, the right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government has decided to implement a two-pronged strategy which threatens the country’s secular ethos. This government’s amendment of a 1955 citizenship act grants citizenship to refugees from neighbouring countries belonging to religions other than Islam. This legislation has been amended in the past to limit citizenship to those having at least one Indian parent and, later, to the parent not being an illegal immigrant.

Simultaneously, there is a plan to conduct a biblically inspired National Register of Citizens which will be the arbiter on the citizenship of each Indian. Though the implementation of both or either is perceived as targeting Muslims, the collateral damage will be in the millions because many people do not have, or have insufficient, documents to prove their citizenship.

Source: From India to US, a citizenship crisis is burning across the world

The 2010s’ grim legacy: the decade of the far right

Of note, and Canada to date remains an exception:

The past decade was the decade of the far right.

In January 2010, leftist and centrist politicians led three of the largest democracies in the world: Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva (Brazil), Manmohan Singh (India) and Barack Obama (US). In December 2019, all three countries have far-right leaders: Jair Bolsonaro, Narendra Modi and Donald Trump. In Europe, center-left parties have been decimated, while mainstream right parties mainly survive by adopting frames and policies from the radical right. Only Germany still has the same center-right leader, Angela Merkel, but that will probably change in the next year, too.

This political sea change is in large part the (delayed) consequence of demographic, economic and social shifts. After 9/11, the political debate in many countries shifted from socio-economic to socio-cultural issues. Even the Great Recession only changed this temporarily; once the dust over the bailouts had settled, immigration and security quickly replaced austerity and economic inequality as defining issues once again.

Source: The 2010s’ grim legacy: the decade of the far right

Articles of interest over the holidays – India’s Citizenship Act

Northern India’s Uttar Pradesh has been the worst affected in the ongoing protests against a controversial new citizenship law. At least 19 people have died in the state since protests began on 20 December. The BBC’s Vikas Pandey travels to the region to find out why it has witnessed such large-scale and violent protests.

The extremely narrow lanes of Babupurwa in Kanpur city lead me to Mohammed Shareef’s home.

He is sitting outside the small tin-roof house. It has just one room which doubles as a kitchen during the day and bedroom at night. He gets up, hugs me and breaks down. Several minutes pass in silence.

“I have lost everything. I have no will to live. What was my son’s fault? Why did the police shoot him?” he says trying to hold back tears.

Source: Citizenship Act protests: Why fear has gripped Muslims in this Indian state

Protests against a new citizenship law in India risk making investors wary of doing business in Asia’s third-largest economy.

At least 25 people have been killed in nationwide demonstrations against the new rules enacted into law earlier this month. The law bars undocumented Muslims from three neighboring nations seeking Indian citizenship, while allowing people of other faiths to do so.

Source: Protests Against India’s Citizenship Law Risk Spooking Investors Away

As India’s new citizenship law seeks to create a stratified citizenship based on religion, a large number of Indians opposing it are emerging as a people of one book, the country’s Constitution, which came into force on Jan. 26, 1950.

In the past two weeks, diverse crowds across the country have responded to the discriminatory Citizenship Amendment Act, referred to as the C.A.A., passed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist government by chanting the preamble to the Constitution of India, with its promises of social, political and economic justice, freedom of thought, expression and belief, equality and fraternity.

Student protesters being herded into police vans, opposition leaders standing outside the Indian Parliament and ebullient crowds of tens of thousands in Hyderabad, Delhi, Kolkata, Mumbai and Chennai have read aloud the preamble and held aloft copies of the Constitution and portraits of B.R. Ambedkar, its chief draftsman.

The C.A.A. offers an accelerated pathway to citizenship for Hindu, Sikh, Zoroastrian, Buddhist and Christian migrants from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan but excludes Muslims. It effectively creates a hierarchical system of citizenship determined by an individual’s religion, reminiscent of Myanmar’s 1982 Citizenship Law, which privileged citizenship for “indigenous races,” excluded the Rohingya and paved the ground for the genocidal violence against them.

Source: https://www.nytimes.com/2019/12/27/opinion/india-constitution-protests.html

The recently enacted Citizenship (Amendment) Act, 2019, carves out a special pathway to citizenship for non-Muslim immigrants from some countries. This sort of discrimination against Muslims is popularly thought of as being a relatively recent phenomenon. However, at the founding of India’s republic, the citizenship provisions of the Constitution also discriminated against Muslim immigrants and ma

The Permit System

After the partition of the country, two waves of immigration occurred from West Pakistan to India. In the first wave, which started from March 1, 1947, large numbers of Hindus and Sikhs arrived here. In the second wave in 1948, many Indian Muslims who had migrated to West Pakistan sought to return to India because of poor conditions there, especially in Karachi. This second wave

In April 1948, Nehru acknowledged that the “influx … of Muslims to Delhi and other parts of India from Pakistan has raised certain difficulties”. The following month, Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel wrote to Nehru that there was “considerable discontent” among the public in general and refugees in particular about the Indian government’s “failure to prevent the inflow of Muslims from Pakistan.” The return of “these Muslims”, he explained, “while we are not yet able to rehabilitate Hindus and Sikhs from Pakistan… would again be the breeding ground of communal poison, on which activities of organisation[s] like the RSS thrive.” He believed that returning Indian Muslims were “a great source of danger to the peace and security of Delhi”. Nehru replied and said that this was an “undoubtedly serious” matter.

It was against this backdrop that the Indian government introduced a system on July 19, 1948, under which no person could move from West Pakistan into India without a permit issued by the Indian high commission in Karachi or Lahore.

Read more at: https://www.bloombergquint.com/opinion/citizenship-amendment-act-the-unsecular-origins-of-indian-citizenship-by-abhinav-chandrachud

At 24, Indian transgender Ray has already had to fight many battles for recognition and now faces a new threat – losing her citizenship because of controversial new legislation.

The Delhi-based law student – whose official documents identify her as male – is among tens of thousands of people protesting against the legislation and a mooted nationwide citizens’ register, worried that it will render transgender Indians like herself stateless.

Her fears are not unfounded. In September this year, a petition was filed in India’s Supreme Court after around 2,000 transgenders were left off a citizens’ register in the northeastern state of Assam, throwing their future into doubt.

Despite being legally recognised as a third gender in a historic 2014 Supreme Court ruling, they often live on the extreme fringes of Indian society, with many forced into prostitution, begging or menial jobs.

For a community that already faces severe discrimination in conservative India – much of it from their own families – transgenders feel they are at extra risk from legislation pushed by Hindu nationalist Prime Minister Narendra Modi aimed ostensibly at tackling illegal immigration.

Source: India’s transgenders face losing citizenship with new law

The Guardian view on Modi’s citizenship law: dangerous for all

Good commentary:

Thousands nationwide have protested against India’s new citizenship law in recent days, facing a brutal police response. This is arguably the biggest display of opposition to Narendra Modi since he took power six years ago, and for good reason. Demonstrators have been urged into action not by the sense of a new direction being established, but of the confirmation of the country’s alarming trajectory. The legislation is the proof that Mr Modi’s Hindu nationalist project is not a containable anomaly, but an enterprise that threatens the nation’s very foundations of pluralism and secularism. Fear overshadows the hopes of that seven-decade endeavour.

The prime minister has piously tweeted: “This is the time to maintain peace, unity and brotherhood.” Superficially this is, as the BJP government claims, a law that expands rather than removes rights. It creates a fast-track path to citizenship for Hindus, Sikhs, Jains, Buddhists, Parsees and Christians arriving from Muslim-majority states, who would otherwise spend years labelled as illegal immigrants. But no one considering either its text or context could seriously regard this as a measure of inclusion. It is inherently one of exclusion, which discriminates against Muslims fleeing persecution, and signals that Muslim citizens are not “truly” Indian. It undermines constitutional protections which apply to foreigners as well as citizens in India.

Source: The Guardian view on Modi’s citizenship law: dangerous for all

And an upcoming court challenge:

India’s controversial religion-based citizenship act will have to pass the scrutiny of the nation’s top court, even as Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government pledged to push ahead and implement the law.

A three-judge bench headed by Chief Justice of India S.A.Bobde issued a notice to the government seeking its response. The court agreed to examine the legality of the legislation following more than 50 petitions filed by activists, lawyers, student groups, Muslim bodies, and politicians from across the country. The court will next hear the case on Jan. 22 and may decide in January if the law should be stayed, Bobde said.

The move may calm protesters who have called the law discriminatory because it bars undocumented Muslims from Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh from seeking citizenship but allows Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis and Christians who migrated from these regions to do so. On Tuesday, Home Minister Amit Shah, who shepherded the Citizenship Amendment Act through the Parliament last week, defended it and ruled out any possibility of repealing the law.

“When the country was divided on the basis of religion and the minorities are being persecuted there in the name of religion, then will you not give them your citizenship?” Shah said in comments broadcast on Times Now, referring to the partition of India in 1947. “Where will they go?”

Stateless Risks

The new law is seen as a precursor to Shah’s plan to implement a nationwide citizens register to weed out illegal migrants.

Demonstrations first began in the eastern state of Assam where there are fears the new law would allow an influx of migrants from neighboring Bangladesh. Some 1.9 million people in Assam — many of them Muslims — risk losing their Indian citizenship after the state enforced the citizens register in August.

Anger soon spread across many parts of India, including the capital New Delhi, over fears it would damage India’s traditional secular ethos enshrined in its Constitution that treats all religions on par.

Meanwhile, police stormed university campuses across the country this week to quell the protests, which have so far been led largely by students of all faiths.

“This isn’t about religion, this is about justice,” said Neha Sareen, a 22-year-old student at Tuesday’s protests outside Delhi’s Jamia Millia Islamia University, which faced the worst police crackdown. “The law is against the constitution of India. It discriminates against fellow citizens.”

Repeal Demands

Protesters remain firm on their demand for a repeal of the act, said Shifa Ur Rehman Khan, president of Jamia university’s alumni association. Yet, the government has shown no signs of backing down on the bill. On Tuesday, Shah said no Indian citizen of any faith need worry about the citizenship rules.

The government is now turning its attention to building a temple for the Hindu warrior god Ram on the site of a demolished mosque in northern India, after the country’s top court gave a verdict in the favor of Hindu groups last month.

If the protests continue to gather steam there are fears it will distract the government from its economic problems and undermine efforts to attract foreign investment. Asia’s third-biggest economy is growing at its slowest pace in more than six years and unemployment is the highest in more than four decades.

Shah told industry leaders in Mumbai on Tuesday that the Modi government is working toward fixing a temporary economic slowdown and that it should recover ground in three quarters. Shah, whose interview was broadcast at the Times Network India Economic Conclave in Mumbai, got support from at least one executive.

“The idea of a strong India is important and it is sad that the students are getting sucked into politics,” said Sajjan Jindal, chairman of JSW Steel Ltd.before Shah’s speech. “This law will protect the country from illegal immigrants.”

The last time Shah addressed business leaders in Mumbai billionaire Rahul Bajaj spoke to say corporate India was hesitant about criticizing the current government.

Source: Supreme Court to Examine Contentious India Citizenship Law

UN Rights Official Urges India to Scrap New Citizenship Law

Of note:

The Office of the U.N.’s top human rights official is urging India to scrap its new Citizenship (Amendment) Act, which it says discriminates against Muslims.

Violent protests erupted in the Indian states of Assam and Tripura in the wake of last week’s passage of India’s new citizenship law, killing three people and Injuring many others, including police officers.

The U.N. human rights office says it deplores the government’s brutal crackdown on those protesting the enactment of the law, which it calls fundamentally discriminatory.  The amended legislation grants citizenship rights to six religious minorities fleeing persecution in Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan.

But human rights spokesman, Jeremy Laurence, says the law does not extend the same protection to Muslims.

“The amended law would appear to undermine the commitment to equality before the law enshrined in India’s constitution and India’s obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the Convention for the elimination of Racial Discrimination, to which India is a state party,” he said.

Laurence says India’s Citizenship Act could violate these international covenants, which prohibit racial, ethnic or religious discrimination.

“Although India’s broader naturalization laws remain in place, these amendments will have a discriminatory effect on people’s access to nationality.  All migrants, regardless of their migration status, are entitled to respect, protection and fulfillment of their human rights,”  he said.

A Muslim political party along with lawyers and rights groups have challenged the law in India’s Supreme Court, arguing that it violates the country’s secular constitution. The U.N. human rights office says it hopes the justices will consider whether the law is compatible with India’s international human rights obligations.

Source: UN Rights Official Urges India to Scrap New Citizenship Law

Meanwhile, riots and demonstrations continue in parts of India:

Furious protests against a new citizenship bill continued to erupt across India on Monday, provoking a harsh security response and presenting the most widespread challenge to Prime Minister Narendra Modi since he came to power five years ago.

On Sunday, police officers stormed a predominantly Muslim university in New Delhi, the capital, beating up dozens of students and firing tear gas into a library where young people had sought refuge.

The protests have gripped many major Indian cities and are a reaction to the Indian Parliament’s decision last week to pass a contentious measure that would give special treatment to Hindu and other non-Muslim migrants in India. Critics have called the measure blatantly discriminatory and a blow to India’s foundation as a secular democracy.

The legislation is a core piece of a Hindu-centric agenda pursued by Mr. Modi and his Bharatiya Janata Party, and many analysts predicted trouble. India’s large Muslim minority, around 200 million people, has become increasingly fearful, certain that many of Mr. Modi’s recent initiatives are intended to marginalize them.

U.S. Commission Censures India’s Proposed New Citizenship Laws

Of note. Haven’t seen much commentary from the Canadian government. As the Liberal government abolished the Office for Religious Freedom, any comment would likely have to come from the Global Affairs’ Office of Human Rights, Freedoms and Inclusion:

A U.S. federal commission has called for sanctions against India’s home minister and other top leaders if the country passes a controversial bill that will prevent Muslim migrants from neighboring countries from receiving citizenship.

After hours of heated debate, India’s lower house of Parliament early Tuesday morning passed the Citizenship Amendment Bill — the next step in Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s hardline Hindu nationalist agenda.

The bill needs approval from the upper house — expected to come as early as Wednesday — before it become law. It proposes changes to existing citizenship laws to allow citizenship for Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis, and Christians who illegally migrated to India from Afghanistan, Bangladesh, and Pakistan. Muslims are excluded from these provisions. If passed as expected, the move threatens the secular foundation of the world’s second-most populous nation and its constitution that treats all religions equally.

“If the CAB passes in both houses of parliament, the United States government should consider sanctions against the Home Minister and other principal leadership,” The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom said in a press statement. “The CAB enshrines a pathway to citizenship for immigrants that specifically excludes Muslims, setting a legal criterion for citizenship based on religion. The CAB is a dangerous turn in the wrong direction.”

The U.S. commission’s statement was “neither accurate nor warranted,” India’s Ministry of External Affairs said. “The Bill provides expedited consideration for Indian citizenship to persecuted religious minorities already in India from certain contiguous countries. It seeks to address their current difficulties and meet their basic human rights,” the ministry’s spokesman Raveesh Kumar said in a statement.

USCIRF is an independent, bipartisan U.S. federal government commission.

‘Discriminatory Laws’

If the bill becomes law, India’s tradition of secularism and pluralism could crumble, said Michael Kugelman, senior associate for South Asia at the Washington-based Wilson Center, who has closely researched India’s politics over the past decade, comparing it with Myanmar’s discriminatory law based on ethnicity introduced in the 1980s.

“What happened in subsequent decades in Myanmar — particularly the horrors of the massacres of the Rohingya — underscore just how destructive these types of discriminatory citizenship laws can be for marginalized communities,” said Kugelman.

The bill has evoked both strident support and sharp censure, sparking protests around India, with lawyers working overtime to help millions at risk of being left stateless in the world’s largest democracy.

The hashtag #CitizenshipAmendmentBill2019 was trending on Twitter in India. On Tuesday morning more than 88,000 people had tweeted about the bill, with many supporting the government and others calling it an attack on the country’s secular traditions.

Source: U.S. Commission Censures India’s Proposed New Citizenship Laws

Akshay Kumar On Canadian Citizenship: Got It When I felt My Career Was Over; Have Applied For Indian Passport

Great example of instrumental citizenship and how it can be discarded when convenient:

One of the most popular stars in Bollywood today is Akshay Kumar. The Khiladi of Bollywood has managed to make a name for himself over the years and has become one of the most bankable superstars. However, time and again, Akshay becomes a target online due to his Canadian citizenship. While the star has always kept mum on the issue, at a recent event, the Good Newwz actor was prodded about it and he shared at length the story behind his Canadian citizenship.

Akshay mentioned that there was a point in his life where he had back to back 14 flops in Bollywood. The Khiladi remembered those days and mentioned that he has thought his career was over and that he wouldn’t get work in the country anymore. Akshay then went onto mention that at that time, his friend from Canada asked him to come there to work with him. The Good Newwz actor stated that it was at that time he applied for his citizenship. Later, Akshay said that his 15th film worked and he never thought about getting his passport changed.

Akshay opened up at great length about his Canadian citizenship and mentioned that it hurts him when he has to prove his love for his country. Akshay said, “I have now applied for the passport. I don’t want to give anyone the chance to question me on it. I am an Indian and it hurts me that I am asked to prove that every time. My wife, my children are Indian. I pay my taxes here and my life is here.” About the process of getting Canadian citizenship, Akshay said, “I started the process to get a Canadian passport because I felt my career was finished and I won’t get more work here. But my 15th film worked and I never looked back. I never thought of changing my passport.”

Meanwhile, the actor is busy with the promotions of his upcoming film, Good Newwz starring Kareena Kapoor Khan, Diljit Dosanjh and Kiara Advani. At the event, Kareena accompanied Akshay and the two stunned in matching black attire. Akshay and Kareena also took the stage and performed on the song, Sauda Khara Khara from Good Newwz. Directed by Raj Mehta, Good Newwz is being produced by Karan Johar. The film is slated to release on December 27, 2019.

Source: Akshay Kumar On Canadian Citizenship: Got It When I felt My Career Was Over; Have Applied For Indian Passport

Blood and Soil in Narendra Modi’s India The Prime Minister’s Hindu-nationalist government has cast two hundred million Muslims as internal enemies.

Good long and disturbing read on the rise and impact of the BJP (excerpts):

On August 11th, two weeks after Prime Minister Narendra Modi sent soldiers in to pacify the Indian state of Kashmir, a reporter appeared on the news channel Republic TV, riding a motor scooter through the city of Srinagar. She was there to assure viewers that, whatever else they might be hearing, the situation was remarkably calm. “You can see banks here and commercial complexes,” the reporter, Sweta Srivastava, said, as she wound her way past local landmarks. “The situation makes you feel good, because the situation is returning to normal, and the locals are ready to live their lives normally again.” She conducted no interviews; there was no one on the streets to talk to.

Other coverage on Republic TV showed people dancing ecstatically, along with the words “Jubilant Indians celebrate Modi’s Kashmir masterstroke.” A week earlier, Modi’s government had announced that it was suspending Article 370 of the constitution, which grants autonomy to Kashmir, India’s only Muslim-majority state. The provision, written to help preserve the state’s religious and ethnic identity, largely prohibits members of India’s Hindu majority from settling there. Modi, who rose to power trailed by allegations of encouraging anti-Muslim bigotry, said that the decision would help Kashmiris, by spurring development and discouraging a long-standing guerrilla insurgency. To insure a smooth reception, Modi had flooded Kashmir with troops and detained hundreds of prominent Muslims—a move that Republic TV described by saying that “the leaders who would have created trouble” had been placed in “government guesthouses.”

The change in Kashmir upended more than half a century of careful politics, but the Indian press reacted with nearly uniform approval. Ever since Modi was first elected Prime Minister, in 2014, he has been recasting the story of India, from that of a secular democracy accommodating a uniquely diverse population to that of a Hindu nation that dominates its minorities, especially the country’s two hundred million Muslims. Modi and his allies have squeezed, bullied, and smothered the press into endorsing what they call the “New India.”

Kashmiris greeted Modi’s decision with protests, claiming that his real goal was to inundate the state with Hindu settlers. After the initial tumult subsided, though, the Times of India and other major newspapers began claiming that a majority of Kashmiris quietly supported Modi—they were just too frightened of militants to say so aloud. Television reporters, newly arrived from Delhi, set up cameras on the picturesque shoreline of Dal Lake and dutifully repeated the government’s line.

…..

To many observers, Modi’s success stemmed from his willingness to play on profound resentments, which for decades had been considered offensive to voice in polite society. Even though India’s Muslims were typically poorer than their fellow-citizens, many Hindus felt that they had been unjustly favored by the central government. In private, Hindus sniped that the Muslims had too many children and that they supported terrorism. The Gandhi-Nehru experiment had made Muslims feel unusually secure in India, and partly as a result there has been very little radicalization, outside Kashmir; still, many Hindus considered them a constant threat. “Modi became a hero for all the Hindus of India,” Nirjhari Sinha, a scientist in Gujarat who investigated the riots, told me. “That is what people tell me, at parties, at dinners. People genuinely feel that Muslims are terrorists—and it is because of Modi that Muslims are finally under control.”

….

As Modi began his run for Prime Minister, in the fall of 2013, he sold himself not as a crusading nationalist but as a master manager, the visionary who had presided over an economic boom in Gujarat. His campaign’s slogan was “The good days are coming.” A close look at the data showed that Gujarat’s economy had grown no faster under his administration than under previous ones—the accelerated growth was “a fantastically crafted fiction,” according to Prasad, the former editor. Even so, many of India’s largest businesses flooded his campaign with contributions.

Modi was helped by an overwhelming public perception that the Congress Party, which had been in power for most of the past half century, had grown arrogant and corrupt. Its complacency was personified by the Gandhi family, whose members dominated the Party but appeared diffident and out of touch. Rahul Gandhi, the head of the Party (and Nehru’s great-grandson), was dubbed the “reluctant prince” by the Indian media.

By contrast, Modi and his team were disciplined, focussed, and responsive. “The Gandhis would keep chief ministers, who had travelled across the country to see them, waiting for days—they didn’t care,” an Indian political commentator who has met the Gandhis as well as Modi told me. “With Modi’s people, you got right in.” While the Congress leaders often behaved as if they were entitled to rule, the B.J.P.’s leaders presented themselves as ascetic, committed, and incorruptible. Modi, who is said to do several hours of yoga every day, typically wore simple kurtas, and members of his immediate family worked in modest jobs and were conspicuously absent from senior government positions; whatever other allegations floated around him, he could not be accused of material greed.

The B.J.P. won a plurality of the popular vote, placing Modi at the head of a governing coalition. As Prime Minister, he surprised many Indians by challenging people to confront problems that had gone unaddressed. One was public defecation, a major cause of disease throughout India. At an early speech in Delhi, he announced a nationwide program to build public toilets in every school—a prosaic improvement that gratified many Indians, even those who could afford indoor plumbing. Modi also addressed a series of widely publicized gang rapes by speaking in bracingly modern terms. “Parents ask their daughters hundreds of questions,” he said. “But have any dared to ask their sons where they are going?”

The address set the tone for Modi’s premiership, or at least for part of it. As a young pracharak, he had taken a vow of celibacy, and he gave no public sign of breaking it. Unburdened by family commitments, he worked constantly. People who saw him said he exuded a vitality that seemed to compensate for his otherwise solitary existence. “When you have that kind of power, that kind of adoration, you don’t need romance,” the Indian political commentator told me. In Gujarat, Modi had focussed on big-ticket projects, wooing car manufacturers and bringing electricity to villages; as Prime Minister, he introduced a sweeping reform of bankruptcy laws and embarked on a multibillion-dollar campaign of road construction.

Modi’s effort to transform his image succeeded in the West, as well. In the United States, newspaper columnists welcomed his emphasis on markets and efficiency. In addition, Modi called on a vast network of Indian-Americans, who cheered his success at putting India on the world stage. The Obama Administration quietly dropped the visa ban. When Modi met Obama, not long after taking office, the two visited the memorial to Martin Luther King, Jr., a man Modi claimed to admire. During his stay, Modi had a dinner meeting with Obama, but he presented White House chefs with a dilemma: he was fasting for Navaratri, a Hindu festival. At the meeting, he consumed only water.

The Indian political commentator, who met with Modi during his first term, told me that in person he was intense and inquisitive but not restless; he joked about the monkeys that were marauding his garden, and happily discussed the arcana of projects that were occupying his attention. The main one was water: India’s groundwater reserves were declining quickly (they’ve gone down by sixty-one per cent in the past decade), and Modi was trying to prepare for a future in which the country could run dry. During the meeting, he also displayed a detailed list of nations that were in need of various professionals—lawyers, engineers, doctors—of the very kind that India, with its huge population of graduates, could provide. “He is smart, extremely focussed,” the commentator said. “And, yes, a bit puritanical.”

In 2016, after four years of trying to find a publisher for her book, Ayyub decided to publish it herself. To pay for it, she sold the gold jewelry that her mother had been saving for her wedding. “I wasn’t getting married anytime soon anyway,” she told me, laughing. She found a printer willing to reproduce the manuscript without reading it first, and cut a deal with a book distributor to share any profits. She persuaded an artist friend to design an appropriately ominous cover. Ayyub was protected by the fact that, as an English-language book, it would be read only by India’s élite, too small a group toconcern the B.J.P. That May, the book went on sale on Amazon and in bookstores around the country. She called it “Gujarat Files: Anatomy of a Cover Up.”

“Gujarat Files” relates the highlights of the discussions Ayyub had with senior officials as she tried to figure out what happened during Modi’s and Shah’s time presiding over the state. It is not a polished work; it reads like a pamphlet for political insiders, rushed into publication by someone with no time to check punctuation or spell out abbreviations or delve into the historical background of the cases discussed. “I didn’t have the resources to think about all that,” Ayyub told me. “I just wanted to get the story out.” The virtue of the book is that it feels like being present at a cocktail party of Hindu nationalists, speaking frankly about long-suppressed secrets. “Here is the thing,” Ayyub said. “Everybody has heard the truth—but you can’t be sure. With my book, you can hear it from the horse’s mouth.”

Among those whom Ayyub “stung” was Ashok Narayan, who had been Gujarat’s Home Secretary during the riots. According to Ayyub, Narayan said that Modi had decided to allow the Hindu nationalists to parade the bodies of the victims of the train attack. Narayan said that he had warned Modi, “Things will go out of hand,” but to no avail. When he resisted, Modi went around him. “Bringing the bodies to Ahmedabad flared up the whole thing, but he is the one who took the decision,” he said.

As Modi consolidated his hold on the government, he used its power to silence mainstream outlets. In 2016, his administration began moving to crush the television news network NDTV. Since it went on the air, in 1988, the station has been one of the liveliest and most credible news channels; this spring, as votes were tallied in the general election, its Web site received 16.5 billion hits in a single day. According to two people familiar with the situation, Modi’s administration has pulled nearly all government advertising from the network—one of its primary sources of revenue—and members of his Cabinet have pressured private companies to stop buying ads. NDTV recently laid off some four hundred employees, a quarter of its staff. The journalists who remain say that they don’t know how long they can persist. “These are dark times,” one told me.

That year, Karan Thapar, the journalist who had asked Modi whether he wanted to express remorse for the Gujarat riots, found that no one from the B.J.P. would appear on his nightly show any longer. Thapar, perhaps the country’s most prominent television journalist, was suddenly unable to meaningfully cover politics. Then he discovered that Modi’s Cabinet members were pushing his bosses to take him off the air. “They make you toxic,” Thapar told me. “These are not things that are put in writing. They’re conversations—‘We think it’s not a good idea to have him around.’ ” (His network, India Today, denies being influenced by “external pressures.”) In 2017, his employers expressed reluctance to renew his contract, so he left the network.

Modi’s government has targeted enterprising editors as well. Last year, Bobby Ghosh, the editor of the Hindustan Times, one of the country’s most respected newspapers, ran a series tracking violence against Muslims. Modi met privately with the Times’ owner, and the next day Ghosh was asked to leave. In 2016, Outlook ran a disturbing investigation by Neha Dixit, revealing that the R.S.S. had offered schooling to dozens of disadvantaged children in the state of Assam, and then sent them to be indoctrinated in Hindu-nationalist camps on the other side of the country. According to a person with knowledge of the situation, Outlook’s owners—one of India’s wealthiest families, whose businesses depended on government approvals—came under pressure from Modi’s administration. “They were going to ruin their empire,” the person said. Not long after, Krishna Prasad, Outlook’s longtime editor, resigned.

The lack of journalistic scrutiny has given Modi immense freedom to control the narrative. Nowhere was this more apparent than in the months leading up to his reëlection, in 2019. Backed by his allies in business, Modi ran a campaign that was said to cost some five billion dollars. (Its exact cost is unknown, owing to weak campaign-finance laws.) As the vote approached, though, Modi was losing momentum, hampered by an underperforming economy. On February 14th, a suicide bomber crashed a car laden with explosives into an Indian military convoy in Kashmir, killing forty soldiers. The attack energized Modi: he gave a series of bellicose speeches, insisting, “The blood of the people is boiling!” He blamed the attack on Pakistan, India’s archrival, and sent thousands of troops into Kashmir. The B.J.P.’s supporters launched a social-media blitz, attacking Pakistan and hailing Modi as “a tiger.” One viral social-media post contained a telephone recording of Modi consoling a widow; it turned out that the recording had been made in 2013.

On February 26th, Modi ordered air strikes against what he claimed was a training camp for militants in the town of Balakot. Sympathetic outlets described a momentous victory: they pumped out images of a devastated landscape, and, citing official sources, claimed that three hundred militants had been killed. But Western reporters visiting the site found no evidence of any deaths; there were only a handful of craters, a slightly damaged house, and some fallen trees. Many of the pro-Modi posts turned out to be crude fabrications. Pratik Sinha, of Alt News, pointed out that photos claiming to depict dead Pakistani militants actually showed victims of a heat wave; other images, ostensibly of the strikes, were cribbed from a video game called Arma 2.

But, in a country where hundreds of millions of people are illiterate or nearly so, the big idea got through. Modi rose in the polls and coasted to victory. The B.J.P. won a majority in the lower house of parliament, making Modi the most powerful Prime Minister in decades. Amit Shah, Modi’s deputy, told a group of election workers that the Party’s social-media networks were an unstoppable force. “Do you understand what I’m saying?” he said. “We are capable of delivering any message we want to the public—whether sweet or sour, true or fake.”

For many, Modi’s reëlection suggested that he had uncovered a terrible secret at the heart of Indian society: by deploying vicious sectarian rhetoric, the country’s leader could persuade Hindus to give him nearly unchecked power. In the following months, Modi’s government introduced a series of extraordinary initiatives meant to solidify Hindu dominance. The most notable of them, along with revoking the special status of Kashmir, was a measure designed to strip citizenship from as many as two million residents of the state of Assam, many of whom had crossed the border from the Muslim nation of Bangladesh decades before. In September, the government began constructing detention centers for residents who had become illegal overnight.

Huge pro-India fake news network includes Canadian sites, links to Canadian think tanks

Of interest:

A huge international network of fake local news sites that push a pro-Indian government position internationally has a deep Canadian connection, CBC News has learned.

According to the EU DisinfoLab, a Brussels-based non-profit group whose goal is identifying disinformation targeting the European Union, the network includes at least 265 sites in more than 65 countries.

At least 12 of those sites pose as Canadian news outlets and use names that either mimic current media publications or old media outlets that have folded, such as The Toronto Evening Telegram. CBC has also found evidence of a further 16 sites designed to look like local Canadian news websites, all registered by the Srivastava Group.

Some of the sites have either been taken down in the last week, since some of the EU DisinfoLab’s findings have been reported, or never had content uploaded to them in the first place.

All of the sites are tied to the Srivastava Group, an Indian corporation run by Ankit Srivastava, a self-described entrepreneur based in New Delhi. CBC was able to determine using website data analysis tool DomainTools. Some of the websites were registered to a bungalow in Edmonton.

The network of sites publishes content that is critical of Pakistan.

News sites with Canadian names but little activity

The purported Canadian news sites run by the network have names like the Toronto Mail, the Quebec Telegraph and the Times of New Brunswick. Many borrow the names of defunct Canadian newspapers. In all cases, the “about” section claims that the websites are local Canadian media outlets.

Most of the Canadian websites in the network have generated very little activity on social media, garnering almost no likes and shares, according to social media analytics tool BuzzSumo. Unlike many fake news networks, the sites don’t seem to make money through advertising since they don’t carry ads.

Alexandre Alaphilippe, executive director of the EU DisinfoLab, notes that parts of this network have been active since 2010. “It’s a network that has been operating for a very long time on these questions, promoting India or denigrating Pakistan,” he said. “It’s not only fake media sites. They have think-tanks, NGOs and so on. It’s very organized. It shows that this is something that is planned.”

Controversial visit to Kashmir

The Srivastava Group was also linked to a controversial visit by right-wing members of European Parliament to Kashmir in late October, which included a meeting with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

The visit to Kashmir took place even though access to the region is extremely restricted by the Indian government, and journalists and NGOs are barred. In August, the Indian government revoked part of the constitution granting the Jammu and Kashmir state special status, instituted a curfew and cut internet and phone connections. The area has been under lockdown for more than 100 days.

According to Julian Schofield, an associate professor at Concordia University in Montreal whose studies focus on South Asia, the visit might be a way for India to promote its handling of the situation in Kashmir and make it look better when compared to its main rival, Pakistan.

“Bringing the Europeans over is saying, ‘Look, we’re a functioning democracy, just like you, we have the same issues as you, and essentially, we’re liberal. We’re multi-ethnic, multi-identity, just like you, not like Pakistan. Come visit Kashmir, we’re doing our best,'” he said.

According to Indian media, that visit was financed and organized by two NGOs with connections to Srivastava: the International Institute for Non-Aligned Studies (IINS) and Women’s Economic and Social Think-Tank (WESTT).

IINS was founded by Srivastava and shares a physical New Delhi address with the Srivastava group. WESTT’s website was registered by M. Srivastava. The director of WESTT, Madi Sharma, is also described as the EU correspondent for the New Delhi Times — an obscure newspaper whose editor-in-chief is Ankit Srivastava.

Its website has 1.2 million followers on Facebook, but almost no interactions with its content, which is extremely unusual given that followers tend to interact with content, and suggests the followers may be fake. Sharma was reported by Indian media to have extended the invitation to the MPs to visit India, and accompanied those MPs during their time in Kashmir.

Several Indian journalists from fact-checking outlets contacted by CBC/Radio-Canada said they had never heard of the New Delhi Times before the controversy over the Kashmir visit erupted.

Schofield said that India’s rivalry with Pakistan is at the centre of its foreign policy and the visit was part of its propaganda effort. “It is viable as a technique against Pakistan. If Pakistan wasn’t there, India would dominate the sub-continent.”

Srivastava has also republished columns from Toronto Sun columnist Tarek Fatah, who describes the two as friends, and also has links to former Liberal MP Mario Silva; the IP address used to register the website of a think-tank that was chaired by Silva is the same as that of the Srivastava group, and the site is hosted on a server administered by Srivastava.

CBC News reached out to Srivastava at multiple phone numbers, and in all cases, the person who answered the phone referred inquiries to an email address. Srivastava did not respond to multiple email inquiries.

Over the past week, Twitter has suspended several accounts linked to the network, including the accounts for EP Today, a purported news magazine centred on the European Parliament, and 4news Agency, a newswire service which served to boost the network’s content. Both these sites were used to push pro-India news items.

Since EU DisinfoLab’s report, all of the articles were also removed from EP Today. All that remains on the site is an apology by the owners for publishing articles from the Russian outlet RT.

Think tank website hosted by Srivastava

One of the Canadians linked to Ankit Srivastava is former Liberal MP Mario Silva.

Silva chaired a group called IFFRAS, the International Forum for Rights and Security, which describes itself as a “non-profit international think-tank” with headquarters in Toronto, Brussels, Geneva and Washington. Silva was the Liberal member of Parliament for the downtown Toronto riding of Davenport from 2004 to 2011, and is currently a distinguished visiting professor at Toronto’s Ryerson University and a board member at Toronto Hydro.

Using DomainTools, CBC found that the website shares the same IP address as the Srivastava Group and EP Today, and that website for the think tank is hosted on Srivastava’s server. The email address used to register the server is a Hotmail address for Srivastava.

Silva has given interviews to Times of Geneva, the New Delhi Times and 4News Agency, some of which were critical of Pakistan.

A YouTube video shows Silva sitting next to Fatah as Fatah gives a talk on Balochistan in Geneva in March of 2014.

A number listed on the IFFRAS.org website is not in service, and another number used by Silva previously in his registration of the site was also not in service.

When contacted by email, Silva said he does not “condone, participate in or support any organization that promotes inaccurate or misleading information and would never be part of any group that acts in such a manner.”

Silva said that IFFRAS, the think-tank, has been inactive for a number of years, and his involvement “was limited solely to advocacy for human rights in a broad sense, fully consistent with my long-standing commitment to the promotion of human rights and equality for all persons across the world.”

Silva further added he was unaware of any connections between Srivastava and the websites and newspapers that CBC had inquired about, and that he “emphatically” does not have “any connection with any group or organization you have referenced.”

Toronto writer’s columns reprinted on site

In an interview with CBC News, Fatah said that he was aware his columns were being republished in the New Delhi Times and said Srivastava paid him a small fee for it, though he declined to specify how much.

“Mr. Fatah is a freelance opinion columnist. Freelancers can generally resell their work after its publication in the Sun to non-competing markets, subject to the terms of their agreements with us,” said Phyllise Gelfand, the vice-president of communications for Postmedia, in an email.

Fatah was also listed as the executive director of an NGO called Baluchistan (sic) House, described as a think-tank focusing on the Balochistan province of Pakistan. The region has seen ongoing insurgencies against the Pakistani government by Baloch groups seeking independence.

The now-defunct Baluchistan House website was registered by Ankit Srivastava, as were other sites seemingly built for Fatah, such as whatthefatah.com and whatthefatah.net, which never published any content.

According to Fatah, the What the Fatah project is a proposed video series featuring him that he’s working on with Srivastava, while the Baluchistan House website registration may have come from an exiled Baloch leader living in London.

“I was merely involved and it never really took off, the Baluchistan House forum,” he said.

Fatah’s Baluchistan House organized a panel in 2017 in Geneva, where he appeared alongside Polish MEP Ryszard Czarnecki  to discuss Balochistan’s economic situation. Czarnecki, a conservative politician critical of Pakistan and supportive of India, was amongst the MEPs who visited Kashmir in October.

Fatah said he was not involved with the visit and did not help facilitate it. He also said that while he had met Czarnecki a few times in UN meetings, he didn’t speak or meet with Czarnecki outside of that.

Fatah said he was not aware that Srivastava was running a network of fake news sites.

“Why would he do that?” said Fatah, adding it must be “some ridiculous Indian bureaucrat’s idea of propaganda.”

Concordia’s Schofield said the network’s promotion of Baloch interests clearly marks it as serving the Indian government’s interests. He says that India has been supporting Balochistan independence as a way to put pressure on Pakistan.

“This is definitely political. It’s basically an open secret that the Indians have been helping the Baloch,” he said. “If [Ankit Srivastava] is doing this type of thing, that’s what you’d call a siren alert,” that he’s in line with the government’s policies.

Fatah said he wasn’t worried about his columns being used to promote pro-India views.

“Oh, I am unashamedly pro-India. If somebody uses my writing to be pro-India, hallelujah. India is the only place that will save this universe. You can quote me on that,” he said.

Source: Huge pro-India fake news network includes Canadian sites, links to Canadian think tanks

India’s Supreme Court awards disputed religious site to Hindus in landmark ruling

Will be seen as another manifestation of Modi’s Hindu bias:

India’s Supreme Court on Saturday awarded a bitterly disputed religious site to Hindus, dealing a defeat to Muslims who also claim the land that has sparked some of the bloodiest riots in the history of independent India.

The ruling in the dispute between Hindu and Muslim groups paves the way for the construction of a Hindu temple on the site in the northern town of Ayodhya, a proposal long supported by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ruling Hindu-nationalist party.

Representatives of the Muslim group involved in the case criticized the judgment as unfair and said it was likely to seek a review of the verdict.

In 1992 a Hindu mob destroyed the 16th-century Babri Mosque on the site, triggering riots in which about 2,000 people, most of them Muslims, were killed across the country.Court battles over the ownership of the site followed.

Jubilant Hindus, who have long campaigned for a temple to be built on the ruins of the mosque, set off fire crackers in celebration in Ayodhya after the court decision was announced.

Thousands of paramilitary force members and police were deployed in Ayodhya and other sensitive areas across India. There were no immediate reports of unrest.

“This verdict shouldn’t be seen as a win or loss for anybody,” Modi said on Twitter.

“May peace and harmony prevail!”

Still, the verdict is likely to be viewed as win for Modi’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and its backers.It comes months after Modi’s government stripped the Muslim-majority Jammu and Kashmir region of its special status as a state, delivering on yet another election promise to its largely Hindu support base.

Neelanjan Sircar, an assistant professor at Ashoka University near New Delhi, said the court ruling would benefit the BJP, which won re-election in May, but a slowing economy would ultimately take centre stage for voters.

“In the short term, there will be a boost for the BJP,” said Sircar. “These things don’t work forever … Ram Temple isn’t going to put food on the table.”

Hindus believe the site is the birthplace of Lord Ram, a physical incarnation of the Hindu god Vishnu, and say the site was holy for Hindus long before the Muslim Mughals, India’s most prominent Islamic rulers, built the Babri mosque there in 1528.

‘Milestone’

The five-judge bench, headed by the Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi, reached a unanimous judgment to hand over the plot of just 2.77 acres, or about the size of a soccer field, to the Hindu group.

The court also directed that another plot of 5 acres in Ayodhya be provided to the Muslim group that contested the case but that was not enough to mollify some.

“The country is now moving towards becoming a Hindu nation,” Asaduddin Owaisi, an influential Muslim opposition politician, told reporters.

Modi’s party hailed the ruling as a “milestone.”

“I welcome the court decision and appeal to all religious groups to accept the decision,” Home Minister Amit Shah, who is also president of the BJP, said on Twitter.

Appeals for calm

The Sunni Muslim group involved in the case said it would likely file a review petition, which could trigger another protracted legal battle.

“This is not a justice,” said the group’s lawyer, Zafaryab Jilani.

Muslim organizations appealed for calm.

The Hindu group Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh – the parent organization of Modi’s party – had already decided against any celebrations to avoid provoking sectarian violence between India’s majority Hindus and Muslims, who constitute 14 per cent of its 1.3 billion people.

Restrictions were placed on gatherings in some places and internet services were suspended. Elsewhere, police monitored social media to curb rumors.

Streets in Ayodhya were largely deserted and security personnel patrolled the main road to Lucknow, the capital of the northern state of Uttar Pradesh.

Ayodhya residents were glued to their televisions and mobile phones for news of the ruling, which delighted Hindus when it came.

“Everyone should come together to ensure that the construction work begins at the site without any delay,” roadside vendor Jitan Singh said over the chants of “Jai Shri Ram” (hail Lord Ram) from fellow shop-keepers.

Source: India’s Supreme Court awards disputed religious site to Hindus in landmark ruling