Jeff Bezos was in India this week, documenting a long-awaited business trip with sunny Instagram posts of prime destinations like a memorial to Mahatma Gandhi. But the richest man in modern history has remained silent on a crucial issue of concern to the country: a controversial new citizenship law that has caused deadly unrest.
The law in question, the Citizenship Amendment Act, paves the way for Indian naturalization for refugees of all major religions in South Asia – with the exception of practitioners of Islam. While most of India’s neighbors are overwhelmingly Muslim, minority Islamic sects like the Rohingya of Myanmar and the Ahmadi of Pakistan are subject to severe discrimination. It is the first use of religion to determine eligibility for citizenship in modern Indian law, remarkable in a country which, despite a history of sectarian violence, has maintained a tradition of pluralism since the earliest days of its independence. The United Nations Human Rights Office has called the measure “fundamentally discriminatory” and mass protests against it have raged in India since last month, killing 30 people in the country’s largest state.
Amazon and Bezos did not respond to several requests for comment on the company’s CEO position on the citizenship law.
Bezos is on a week-long tour of the country as his sprawling business hosts a conference and makes a big push to capture the Indian e-commerce market. He was greeted by the return of business owners wary of Amazon’s foray into their territory and the potential of its alleged manipulation of the market to turn their lives upside down. But even if he found the time to publish on social networks with, for example, a troop of children flying kites, the citizenship law weighed on his new playground.
After all, it’s hard to imagine Bezos – whose company has been called a monopoly and worse by antitrust critics – stepping back from the competition or criticizing its practices. But at least one of his tech-giant peers recently spoke out on citizenship law: Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella of Hyderabad, India, criticized the measure on Monday: “I think what’s going on is sad … it’s just wrong.”
Critics describe the law as an extension of a manifest attempt by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi to shape a Hindu nation. The leader of the ruling Bharatiya Janata party in Modi called undocumented Muslim immigrants “termites” in the past and even threatened to throw them into the sea.
Meanwhile, a group of nearly 400 Indian tech workers, including several from Amazon, wrote an open letter to their employers in December denouncing the measure.
“The Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) … is a deeply anti-Muslim program that will create greater statelessness and a global disparity for Muslims,” they wrote. Some signed with their full name, others anonymously.
The pressure on Bezos is unlikely to decrease quickly. Amazon’s investment in India is only increasing, and the CEO has made several personal visits like the one underway in recent years to demonstrate his commitment to what he says will be an “Indian century”.
Bezos made this harmless remark at the Amazon summit on Wednesday: “This country has something special, and it’s a democracy,” he said. “In the 21st century, the most important alliance will be the alliance between India and the United States, the oldest democracy in the world and the greatest democracy in the world.”
If Amazon, which is worth more than $ 900 billion, considers India a key area for its expansion, it faces headwinds from Walmart’s Flipkart and the Indian government itself, which is investigating alleged anti-competitive practices of the two companies. (They deny the allegations.) A small group of protesters from the same companies as Bezos said he wanted to digitize appeared at his speech in New Delhi, although 3,000 traders were also inside the auditorium. watching him speak, according to BuzzFeed News.
Of course, the digitization of the type defended by Big Tech scions like Bezos faces uncertainty if the Internet is not available, period. This is exactly what some Indian residents have experienced in recent months after the Modi government cut off access to Kashmir, the disputed Himalayan region near the border of India and Pakistan. He is just beginning to restore it after a court has ruled the ban an unconstitutional abuse of power, and even then only to hospitals and other “essential services”.