In a series of tweets Nov. 7, India’s Home Ministry canceled the Overseas Citizen of India card for Indian American journalist Aatish Taseer, claiming he had failed to report that his father was a Pakistani when he applied for the document.
Taseer may also be blacklisted from entering India in the future.
Social media is rife with speculation that the high profile reporter may have had his status revoked due to his recent criticism of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. In a May 2019 cover story entitled, “The Divider in Chief,” Taseer wrote: "Not only has Modi's economic miracle failed to materialize, he has also helped create an atmosphere of poisonous religious nationalism in India."
Taseer also took a swipe at the Congress Party in the Time magazine article, writing that sending in Priyanka Gandhi to help her flailing brother Rahul — who helmed the party during the 2019 national election at which the dynastic party encountered massive losses, winning only 52 seats as Rahul Gandhi lost his family’s crown jewel, the Amethi seat — fell short of comprehensive political strategy.
“Mr. Aatish Ali Taseer, while submitting his PIO application, concealed the fact that his late father was of Pakistani origin,” wrote the Ministry in its first tweet, adding: “Mr. Taseer was given the opportunity to submit his reply/objections regarding his PIO/OCI cards, but he failed to dispute the notice.”
“Thus, Aatish Ali Taseer becomes ineligible to hold an OCI card as per the Citizenship Act, 1955. He has clearly not complied with very basic requirements and hidden information,” noted the Ministry.
The Citizenship Act of 1955 states that if an OCI card holder was obtained by means of fraud, false representation or concealment of any material fact, the ensuing document could be canceled at any point. Aatish Taseer’s father, Salman Taseer, was born in Shimla, India in 1944. The liberal politician served as the governor of Punjab, in Pakistan, until his assassination in 2011.
Taseer, who grew up in Britain and holds UK citizenship, has said his mother, Indian journalist Tavleen Singh, was his sole legal guardian. He currently lives with his husband Ryan Davis in New York.
Taseer fired back on Twitter, saying he had no opportunity to register his objections before his OCI card was canceled. The journalist posted a Sept. 3 email he sent to the New York consulate, in reply to a letter he had received from the Home Ministry, which he had received that day, but was dated Aug. 1.
“I was given not the full 21 days, but rather 24 hours to reply. I’ve heard nothing from the ministry since,” wrote Taseer in his tweet.
Taseer received a reply to his email response to the consulate from Shatrughna Sinha, deputy consul general of India in New York, acknowledging that the consulate had received his objection to the proposed revocation of his OCI card.
As of press time Nov. 7, Sinha had not responded to India-West’s queries regarding the kerfuffle.
Indian Member of Parliament Shashi Tharoor wrote a tweet supporting Taseer. “It is painful to see an official spokesperson of our government making a false claim that is so easily disproved. Is our Government so weak that it feels threatened by a journalist?”
PEN America issued a press statement supporting Taseer. “Harassing critical writers and journalists not just in India but globally is a disturbing new low for Modi’s government that’s already put Indian democracy on its heels,” said Karin Deutsch Karlekar, director of Free Expression at Risk Programs at PEN America.
“Revoking Aatish Taseer’s citizenship document — which would in effect also ban him from visiting his childhood home and seeing his mother and grandmother — is a cruelly personal and vindictive way to punish a journalist for their critical coverage. We call on the Indian government to cease their judicial harassment of Taseer immediately and allow him to keep his OCI card,” said Karlekar.
The Committee to Protect Journalists also issued a statement. “Targeting a journalist’s immigration status after the publication of a critical article shows that the Bharatiya Janata Party is intolerant of criticism and freedom of the press, and doesn’t bode well for India’s international reputation,” said Steven Butler, CPJ's Asia program coordinator, in Washington, D.C.
“Home Minister Amit Shah should immediately withdraw the directive and any attempts to alter Aatish Taseer’s overseas citizenship,” he said.
Taseer could not be reached for comment.