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The Indian government will begin implementing a 2019 citizenship bill that fast-tracks passports for foreigners except when they are Muslim, a move that comes ahead of India’s general election this year when Prime Minister Narendra Modi will seek a rare third term in office, CNN reported.

Officials announced this week rules to implement the Citizenship Amendment Act, which was originally passed five years ago but that did not come into effect because of procedural technicalities.

The bill will provide fast-track citizenship for immigrants from neighboring Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan as long as they are part of Hindu, Parsi, Sikh, Buddhist, Jain, or Christian minorities fleeing persecution in those countries on religious grounds.

Modi and his ruling Hindu-nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) have welcomed the law as a humanitarian gesture, but the opposition warned that it is unconstitutional and marginalizes India’s 200-million Muslim population, according to the Associated Press.

Critics noted that the announcement is another example of the BJP’s efforts to push a Hindu nationalist agenda in the secular country of 1.3 billion people. They also criticized Modi and his cabinet for eroding India’s democratic foundations, persecuting minorities and muzzling dissent.

As India’s general election is expected to take place by May, Modi has fused religion and politics, a strategy that has strongly connected with India’s predominantly Hindu population.

In January, he inaugurated a Hindu temple on the site of a razed mosque in the northern city of Ayodhya, fulfilling a longstanding Hindu nationalist commitment of his party.

Last month, the BJP-led government in Assam state repealed a 1935 law on Muslim marriage and divorce, sparking outrage among the minority Muslim community, Al Jazeera noted.

State officials cited concerns about child marriages as the rationale for repealing the legislation, which required marriage registration even if below the legal age.

But critics accused the state government of exploiting colonial-era laws for electoral gains, with opposition leaders denouncing it as a move to polarize voters along religious lines.

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