India says non-Muslim migrants have nowhere to go, should get citizenship

NEW DELHI: India wants to give citizenship to immigrants belonging to religious minorities persecuted in neighbouring Muslim countries, including Pakistan, because they have nowhere go except India, the interior minister said on Tuesday.

Critics have called the proposal, contained in a Citizenship Amendment Bill, 2019, blatantly anti-Muslim and an attempt by Prime Minister Narendra Modi's Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) to boost its Hindu voter base ahead of a general election due by May.

The bill seeks to give citizenship to Hindus, Sikhs, Jains, Buddhists, Christians and Parsis from Afghanistan, Pakistan and Bangladesh, who came to India before Dec. 31, 2014.

"They have no place to go except India," Home Minister Rajnath Singh told parliament. "The beneficiaries of the bill can reside in any state of the country."

But there is significant opposition to the proposal, in particular from the northeastern state of Assam, where residents have for years complained that immigrants from Bangladesh have put a big strain on resources.

But Singh tried to reassure Assam it would not have to bear any burden alone.

"The burden of those persecuted migrants will be shared by the whole country. Assam alone should not have to bear the entire burden," he said.

Members of religious minorities often face discrimination and sometimes violence at the hands of militant members of Muslim majorities, particularly in Pakistan and Afghanistan.