New Delhi, India – The Indian government has revoked the Overseas Citizen of India (OCI) card status of New York-based author and journalist Aatish Taseer, saying that he has concealed the details that his late father was of Pakistani origin, but many see the directive as a direct fallout of his TIME Magazine story in May which referred to Prime Minister Narendra Modi as “Divider in Chief”.
Taseer reacted to the Modi government’s decision, in a column in TIME saying: “I had expected a reprisal, but not a severing.”
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In the same piece, he said that he was born in the United Kingdom and has British citizenship but since the age of two he had lived and grown up in India with his mother – a prominent Indian journalist.
As India does not recognise dual nationality, Taseer carried an OCI – a permanent visa for persons of Indian origin – nearest equivalent to dual.
“Mr Aatish Ali Taseer, while submitting his PIO [Person of Indian Origin] application, concealed the fact that his late father was of Pakistani origin,” the spokesperson of Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) tweeted on Thursday.
“Mr Taseer was given the opportunity to submit his reply/objections regarding his PIO/OCI cards, but he failed to dispute the notice. Thus, Mr Aatish Ali Taseer becomes ineligible to hold an OCI card, as per the Citizenship Act, 1955. He has clearly not complied with very basic requirements and hidden information,” the MHA spokesperson said on Twitter.
This is untrue. Here is the Consul General’s acknowledgment of my reply. I was given not the full 21 days, but rather 24 hours to reply. I’ve heard nothing from the ministry since. https://t.co/z7OtTaLLeO pic.twitter.com/t3LBWUtkdi
— Aatish Taseer (@AatishTaseer) November 7, 2019
The notice to Taseer – author of several books, including Stranger To History: A Son’s Journey Through Islamic Lands and The Twice-Born: Life and Death on the Ganges – regarding his OCI status was sent in September.
He refuted the MHA claims saying he was given only 24 hours to respond to the notice, not the full 21 days.
“This is untrue. Here is the Consul General’s acknowledgment of my reply. I was given not the full 21 days, but rather 24 hours to reply. I’ve heard nothing from the ministry since,” Taseer tweeted while sharing a screenshot of an email reply by the Counsel General of India in New York, acknowledging Taseer’s reply to the notice.
‘Divider in Chief’
In May 2019, at the height of India’s general election, Taseer had written a cover story for the TIME magazine titled Divider in Chief. The piece was critical of Modi.
It is that cover story, which many believe is the reason why the government of Prime Minister Modi revoked his OCI card.
Many, including senior politicians and journalists, have criticised the government move as “petty” and “vindictive”.
Senior Congress leader and Member of Parliament Shashi Tharoor said, “It is painful to see an official spokesperson of our government making a false claim that is so easily disproved. It is even more painful that in our democracy such things happen.”
“Is our government so weak that it feels threatened by a journalist?” Tharoor added.
Taseer is the son of senior Indian journalist and columnist Tavleen Singh and late Salman Taseer, a Pakistani businessman and politician.
Salman Taseer, who was critical of Pakistan’s blasphemy laws, was assassinated by a bodyguard in the year 2011 while he was serving as the governor of Pakistan’s Punjab province.
“Aatish’s mother has also always been an Indian citizen. And, his right to live here was never questioned until he wrote an article that the Home Minister did not like,” his mother, Tavleen Singh wrote on Twitter.
‘Petty and vindictive’
“It’s an absolutely petty and vindictive act,” political analyst and historian, Ramachandra Guha told Al Jazeera.
“It actually shames India in the eyes of the world that they can’t take criticism,” he added.
PEN America, a New York-based literary and human rights organisation, said Modi government’s actions appeared to be retaliation for the TIME magazine article.
The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), a non-profit organisation that promotes press freedom and defends the rights of journalists, asked for the withdrawal of the government’s directive.
“Targeting a journalist’s immigration status after the publication of a critical article shows that the Bharatiya Janata Party is intolerant of criticism and freedom of the press, and doesn’t bode well for India’s international reputation,” said Steven Butler, CPJ’s Asia programme coordinator.
“Home Minister Amit Shah should immediately withdraw the directive and any attempts to alter Aatish Taseer’s overseas citizenship.”
Ruling party defends the move
BJP spokesperson Nalin Kohli said that the fundamental question at the root of the matter is anyone who applies for any kind of a card is required and mandated under the rules as well as the law to make a complete disclosure and bring all the facts.
“If someone does not comply with that, that person is therefore not eligible and would have in some way or the other contravened or broken the rules and governments are obliged to take action against anything that is not following rule of law,” he told Al Jazeera.
“If a Pakistani national is a parent and a person can’t apply in any case, then the application in the first place was incorrect and the withdrawal would be obviously expected and correct,” he said.
When asked about the criticism of Modi in the TIME magazine piece, Kohli said: “That is extraneous to the fact that if he was not eligible for the application why did he in the first place make the application with not disclosing the full facts.”
Kohli said that the opposition was trying to make a political motive of this. “Are they [opposition parties] expecting government not to take action if the facts come about the breaking of the rules,” he said.