India revokes overseas citizenship status of writer who penned article critical of PM Modi

Prominent Indian-origin author and journalist Aatish Taseer was stripped of his Overseas Citizenship of India status on Nov 7, 2019.
Prominent Indian-origin author and journalist Aatish Taseer was stripped of his Overseas Citizenship of India status on Nov 7, 2019.PHOTO: SCREENGRAB FROM AATISH TASEER/FACEBOOK

NEW DELHI - Prominent Indian-origin author and journalist Aatish Taseer has been stripped of his Overseas Citizenship of India (OCI) status, said the Indian government on Thursday (Nov 7). The move has prompted a controversy because of suggestions that the decision is linked to an article Mr Taseer wrote for Time in May this year which was highly critical of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

India does not allow dual nationality but has a special OCI category for foreign citizens of Indian origin that allows them to live and work in India indefinitely without a visa. Mr Taseer, born to an Indian mother, is a British citizen but lives in the United States.

The Indian Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) has rejected the accusation linking the move to his political views. In a series of tweets on Thursday night, MHA spokeswoman Vasudha Gupta said that Mr Taseer had become "ineligible" to hold the OCI status because he had "concealed the fact that his late father was of Pakistani origin" while submitting his "Person of Indian Origin (PIO)" application.

The OCI card replaced the PIO card in 2015. Children or descendants of those who are or were citizens of Pakistan and Bangladesh are not allowed to hold OCI status.

Mr Salman Taseer, father of Mr Aatish Taseer, was a Pakistani citizen and the governor of Pakistan's Punjab province. He was assassinated in 2011 by one of his bodyguards, who opposed his support for granting clemency for a Pakistani Christian woman accused of blasphemy.

"Mr Taseer was given the opportunity to submit his reply/objections regarding his PIO/OCI cards, but he failed to dispute the notice," Ms Gupta added.

Mr Taseer has contested the accusation in an article published on Time.

The 39-year-old author stated that he responded to the office of the Indian consul general in New York despite having just a day to do so. Posting a screenshot of an acknowledgement from the deputy consul general on Twitter, he claimed he had received the letter seeking his response in September on the 20th day into the 21-day period that he had to write back to the government.

Mr Taseer added that he learnt he had become "ineligible" for the OCI status only through the MHA's tweets. The ministry had responded on Twitter to a Nov 7 article by online news portal ThePrint, that said his OCI status was under review possibly because of his political views.

At the peak of the general elections in May this year, Mr Taseer, known for his views against Hindu fundamentalism, had authored an article for Time that questioned if India can "endure another five years of a Modi government".

It was headlined as "India's Divider In Chief" and featured a photo of Mr Modi.

The writer was subsequently bitterly criticised by leaders of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party, including Mr Modi, who brought up his Pakistani origins to discredit him and his views.

In his latest article for Time, Mr Taseer said he had expected a "reprisal" for the earlier piece but not a "severing". He added that the government's decision amounts to sending him into "exile" and he now fears that he may never be let into India.

Mr Taseer has argued he was born out of wedlock and was not in contact with his father until he was 21. Born in Britain, Mr Taseer added he lived in India since the age of two and grew up in the country with his mother, the well-known Indian journalist Tavleen Singh.

"She had raised me on her own in Delhi and was always my sole legal guardian, and the only parent I knew for most of my life. It was why I had always been viewed as Indian in India and why I had been granted an OCI," he wrote.

The writer argued he did not conceal his connection to his father Salman Taseer from the public and that their parents’ relationship figured in his first book, Stranger To History, published in 2009.

Mr Taseer also said he lived in India in 2009 and that his legal status was never questioned or challenged by the government until this September. He added that "it is hard not to feel, given the timing, that I was being punished for what I had written".

His mother too has suggested that the move could be linked to his views. "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," Ms Singh tweeted on Friday morning.

Opposition leaders have criticised the decision to revoke Mr Taseer's OCI status. Congress leader Jairam Ramesh, also a member of the Upper House of the Parliament, tweeted, "I have very often been attacked by Tavleen Singh in her columns. But I condemn Home Ministry revoking her son Aatish Taseer's OCI. It was, however, only to be expected. All critical voices are snooped on, harassed or muzzled."

The writer's books include Stranger to History: A Son's Journey Through Islamic Lands (2009), The Temple-goers (2010), The Way Things Were (2014) and The Twice-Born: Life and Death on the Ganges (2018).