Indian journalist stripped of overseas citizenship status

Supporters of the BJP celebrate outside the party office after learning of initial poll results in Mumbai, October 24, 2019. REUTERS/Francis Mascarenhas

NEW DELHI – India has stripped a prominent writer of his citizenship status after he wrote an article describing Prime Minister Narendra Modi as the country’s “divider-in-chief.”

The move was denounced by advocates for press freedom, who called it a “vindictive” step that shows India’s ruling party is increasingly “intolerant of criticism.”

Aatish Taseer was born in Britain and currently lives in the United States. He moved to India at the age of 2, where he was raised by a single mother, Tavleen Singh, who is a noted Indian columnist.

His father was Salman Taseer, who became a political leader in Pakistan and was assassinated in 2011 after he opposed the country’s anti-blasphemy law.

India does not recognize dual citizenship. But people of Indian origin and their spouses can apply for a special status that confers many of the benefits of citizenship, including the right to live and work in India indefinitely.

Taseer held such status, which is currently known as an Overseas Citizenship of India card.

Late Thursday, a spokeswoman for India’s Ministry of Home Affairs wrote on Twitter that Taseer was “ineligible” for such citizenship because he had “concealed the fact that his late father was of Pakistani origin.”

People whose parents and grandparents are or were citizens of Pakistan and Bangladesh are not eligible for the special status.

In 2009, Taseer published a book about what he called his parents’ “brief, passionate” relationship that was widely reviewed in India. “I was living in India at the time, and at no time was my legal status ever questioned or challenged by the government,” he wrote Thursday.

The questions began, Taseer said, after he wrote a cover story for Time Magazine during India’s national elections earlier this year. In it, he called Modi “at once an inevitability and a calamity for India.” Modi supporters and members of his Bharatiya Janata Party criticized the piece and attacked Taseer in personal terms.

Modi weighed in days after the article was published in May. Time is a “foreign” magazine and “the writer has also said he comes from a Pakistani political family,” said Modi, according to local news reports. “That is enough for his credibility.”

A spokeswoman for the Ministry of Home Affairs did not immediately respond to questions about whether the review of Taseer’s citizenship status was linked to his critical coverage of the prime minister.

Taseer said that an Indian diplomat had informed him that he may no longer be able to receive any kind of visa to enter India because of the government’s allegations that he engaged in misrepresentation.

“With my grandmother turning ninety next year – and my mother 70 – the government has cut me off from my country and family,” Taseer wrote. “India is my country.”

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