Modi's Crusade: Citizenship Amendment Bill paves the way for an India without Islam

Modi's Crusade: Citizenship Amendment Bill paves the way for an India without Islam
The Citizenship Amendment Bill restricts Muslim immigrants from becoming naturalised citizens. Yet the narrative informing the bill is clear: India's Muslims are not welcome in their homeland, writes Khaled Beydoun.
5 min read
13 Dec, 2019
Muslims during Friday prayers, at protest against the CAB in Kolkata [Getty]

This week, India passed its own Muslim Ban. However, this Ban is more draconian and will be far more destructive than its American counterpart.   

After India's lower house passed a bill that would restrict naturalised citizenship to Muslim immigrants, its upper house voted in favor of the Citizenship Amendment Bill (CAB). 

The controversial bill will become standing law when Indian President Ram Nath Kovind endorses it. A mere formality for an executive wed to the very anti-Muslim militancy that drives Narendra Modi's, India's undisputed leader, crusade against Islam.

The CAB's enactment marks another watershed moment for the Modi regime's war against Muslims in the subcontinent. 

Nearly three months after his violent incursion into Kashmir, Modi's campaign to broaden India's borders pivoted to closing them off to Muslim immigrants and limiting citizenship.

The CAB, when signed into law, will prohibit Muslim immigrants from three neighbouring states – Afghanistan, Bangladesh, and Pakistan – from becoming naturalised citizens.

Manifesting its specific intent to discriminate against Muslims, the law creates specific exemptions for Hindus, Buddhists, Sikhs, Christians, Jains and members of other faiths.

The effect of the law matches the rhetoric spewed by Modi and his loyalists: that Muslims are unwelcome in India, and should look to remain or settle in Muslim-majority countries.  

India's own Muslim Ban is more draconian and far more destructive than its American counterpart.

India's new caste system?

The CAB casts Muslim immigrants from these three Muslim-majority states as presumptively illegal.  It also draws explicit lines in Indian citizenship that endorses and entrenches its rapidly developing religious caste, whereby Hindus stand atop it and Muslims on the bottom. 

Or, if Modi has it his way, entirely removed from caste and country.

In line with the Hindutva militancy that steers Modi's crusade against Islam, the enactment of the CAB signals a major step toward realising his vision of turning India into a Hindu state. 

More than just legislation, the CAB would amend India's foundational Citizenship Act of 1955 – enshrined eights years after the nation's independence from Britain – which extended citizenship, and a pathway toward it, free from religious discrimination.

The CAB, however, should not be narrowly framed as an anti-Muslim immigration or citizenship measure. While on the surface targeting these fronts, the legislation is another strike against Islam by a regime poised to emaciate it from within and without. 

While technically geared to prohibit "illegal Muslim immigrants" from three nations, the CAB is just as concerned with policing and punishing the two hundred million indigenous Muslims that have called the nation home since before it was a nation.

For Modi, and his swelling legion of militant Hindu nationalists, "Muslim" and "Indian" are irreconcilable identities.

Read more: Pondering their future in their own homeland: Muslims fearful in a hate filled India

The future of India, as he sees it, is rooted in a distorted view of the past that casts Islam as Arab and foreign, and Hinduism as more than just central to Indian identity – but synonymous with it.

The first step is to cast Muslims as second and third class citizens, and ultimately, brand them as outcasts with no place in the nation.

This vision is the core of Islamophobia in India, and the CAB is the latest step toward realizing it.

This meta-narrative will, in the coming months, be enforced by way of policing and persecution by the state against Indian Muslim citizens dubbed “immigrants” on account of their religious identity.

Assam fights back

Modi's rhetoric offers ample foreshadowing, and in a Muslim-heavy region of the nation such as Assam, Indian Muslims have been scrambling to collect documentation that confirms their citizenship in the face of a mounting police presence poised to strip them of status. 

The Muslim population of Assam, which sits at the easternmost end of Indian territory and northeast of Bangladesh, has faced intense crackdowns from the state leading up to the CAB’s recent enactment.

Climaxing this week with Internet shutdowns and heightened police presence in response to mass protests against the legislation, which for Indian Muslims perceived as immigrants by the Modi regime, signals the beginning of a state crusade to strip them of citizenship. 

As the explosive events in Assam illustrate, the CAB is not about immigration.  Rather, it is about Islam. 

And specifically, a weapon to erode its demographic presence by stifling the naturalization of Muslim immigrants and stripping Indian Muslims from their rightful status as citizens. The latter is not a collateral effect, but a strategic aim. 
The first step is to cast Muslims as second and third class citizens, and ultimately, brand them as outcasts with no place in the nation.

This is already happening in Assam, where citizenship tests are regularly imposed in a state home to nearly 11 million Muslims.

The CAB’s target, much like these citizenship tests, are Muslim communities in Assam and throughout the nation  – which boasts, by many accounts, the largest Muslim population in the world following Indonesia.   

Modi’s India is one where citizenship is not a technical status, but a religious status. 

For him, Islam is inimical to Indian identity – whether observed in Kashmir, Assam, and every major city and remote town beyond and in between these assailed areas.

Revising the secular foundation of the nation and remaking citizenship in the image of his rabid Hindu nationalism, Modi's crusade against Islam marches forward. 

This time, with violent momentum and the marching culture of rage that makes India an insufferable home for Muslims.

For as long as it remains home for the divided nation’s 200 million Muslims, and the millions more marred at its margins.     

Khaled A. Beydoun is a law professor and author of the critically acclaimed book, American Islamophobia: Understanding the Roots and Rise of Fear. 

He tweets at @khaledbeydoun, and can be contacted at

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff.