It should be deeply embarrassing to the Ministry of Home Affairs in India to be shown up as a petty-minded witch-hunter like this. (It should be deeply troubling to the rest of the country if the MHA isn’t embarrassed).
The ministry has put out, officially, that the Overseas Citizenship of India (OCI) card of British-born journalist and writer Aatish Taseer is being cancelled because he concealed the fact that his late father was of Pakistani origin, and because Taseer had failed to dispute the notice sent to him which asked him to explain this “lapse” in information.
To counter the second claim, Taseer has tweeted out a picture of an email exchange between himself and the Consul General where he objected to the ministry’s claim — the full 21 days to reply were not given to him, he pointed out, only 24 hours.
And on the first charge, surely the mandarins of MHA need to read more, or at least, be better informed about what is being written and read. Aatish Taseer has written about his father, Salmaan Taseer, governor of Pakistan’s Punjab who was assassinated in January 2011, extensively, including in his 2007 book, Stranger to History: A Son’s Journey through Islamic Lands.
As he wrote in a later essay: “The line that had gone through Punjab affected me directly. No nostalgia, no bittersweet ironies for me: I had a parent on one side and a parent on the other”.
But then, the powers-that-be in the MHA do read. By all accounts, they have read Taseer’s profile of Prime Minister Narendra Modi in Time magazine earlier this year, in May, during his re-election bid, titled “India’s Divider in Chief”.
They have read it enough to be provoked by it to show Taseer the border. They are provoked by it enough to lose sight of how small and insecure they are making themselves look by drawing a line to keep out a writer who writes about his hybrid identity and about the idea of India in affectionate and generous ways.
In doing so, they make India, the country he spent formative years in, look more like the Pakistan he travelled to, and discovered, only later in life — the home of the idea of a utopia “animated far more by the wish to purge than to build”. Of course, Taseer also found it in himself, and in Pakistan, to revise that view.
To widen his lens in order to see the country through its more complicated realities and its people, beyond the “endless contradictions” that are also “self-wounding” as they seek to kill off a shared past with India.
As it tries to cut Taseer off from a country he calls his own, a country that is therefore his, the Indian government only attracts unflattering attention to itself. The controversy about Taseer’s citizenship is not about the obscure and antiquated law, the Citizenship Act of 1955. It is about the mighty Indian state that apparently needs to hound and victimise a writer to feel strong and decisive.