Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella calls India’s citizenship limits ‘sad’

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Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella, seen here in February 2019, has criticized India’s new religion-based citizenship law. (Bloomberg photo by Stefan Wermuth)

Two high profile Indian-born business leaders — Microsoft’s Satya Nadella and venture capitalist Vinod Khosla — have added their voices to criticisms of India’s new religion-based citizenship law that has roiled the country and led to violent protests.

Nadella, Microsoft Corp’s chief executive officer, said the Citizenship Amendment Act, which bans undocumented Muslim migrants from neighboring countries from seeking citizenship in India while allowing immigrants from other religions to do so, is “sad.”

“I think it’s just bad,” Nadella said on Monday at a Microsoft event for technology editors in New York. “If anything, I would love to see a Bangladeshi immigrant who comes to India and creates the next unicorn in India, or becomes the CEO of Infosys. That should be the aspiration.”

Longtime Silicon Valley venture capitalist Khosla, echoed Nadella’s comments on the topic. “I strongly believe India should be a secular country!” he wrote via email late Monday, when asked about the law.

The software maker’s Indian Twitter account later tweeted a statement from Nadella that seemed to moderate the initial comments, beginning with the thought that “every country will and should define its borders, protect national security and set immigration policy accordingly.”

“I’m shaped by my Indian heritage, growing up in a multicultural India and my immigrant experience in the United States,” the written follow-up statement continued. “My hope is for an India where an immigrant can aspire to found a prosperous startup or lead a multinational corporation benefiting Indian society and the economy at large.”

The comments were reported earlier by Buzzfeed, which asked Nadella the question at the event.

Protests, led mostly by students of all faiths, have erupted across India since Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government pushed the Citizenship Amendment Act through Parliament in December. However condemnation from prominent Indians, within the country and abroad, has been slow to come.

“Well-known names criticizing the citizenship move is bad for India’s image abroad,”said Arati Jerath, a New Delhi-based author and political analyst. Criticism from eminent people along with continuing protests will “scare off potential investors at a time when economy desperately needs infusion of capital. I don’t think the government can afford to ignore this anymore.”

A spokeswoman and federal lawmaker for the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party however sought to dismiss Nadella’s comments. “How literate need to be educated! Perfect example,” Meenakshi Lekhi tweeted, adding “How about granting these opportunities to Syrian Muslims instead of Yezidis in USA?”

Lekhi was likely referring to President Donald Trump’s travel ban that ban includes visa restrictions on five majority-Muslim nations: Iran, Libya, Somalia, Syria and Yemen, as well as Venezuela and North Korea.

The Yezidis, a tiny religious minority in northern Iraq, faced a brutal genocide at the hands of militants of the Islamic State.

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