External affairs minister Sushma Swaraj said on Monday India placed a higher premium on the safety of its citizens than strategic partnership with the United States, amid a surge in attacks against members of Indian diaspora in that country.
Addressing the Rajya Sabha, Swaraj said: “Strategic partnership is secondary... The safety of our people is our top priority.” The minister was responding to concerns flagged by MPs after she made a statement on recent incidents of attacks in the US. The comments were greeted with applause in the House.
On February 22, Indian engineer Srinivas Kuchibhotla, 32 working for a GPS-device maker was shot dead by a US national in Kansas while another Indian Alok Madasani was injured in the shooting. On March 2, a US national of Indian origin, Harnish Patel, was shot dead near his house in South Carolina by unknown attackers.
And two days later, another US national of Indian origin was shot near Seattle after being asked to leave the country.
The killings triggered outrage, with people voicing concern that US President Donald Trump’s “America First” position on immigration and jobs has fuelled intolerance in the country.
Responding to questions raised by members, Swaraj said the government did not view these attacks as a law and order matter. “We don’t think it’s a law and order issue. It’s not simple as that. While Kuchibhotla’s case is being investigated as a hate crime, we are saying probe the other two cases also as hate crimes. We are not treating it as law and order issue.”
Swaraj said India would not stay mum over these attacks for the sake of strategic partnership with the US.
The minister went on to add that attacks were condemned by the US administration and the Congress. In a statement made in the House, the minister said the Centre had taken up the issue with the US government at the highest level and conveyed deep concerns over the recent developments. “We have called for necessary measures to ensure the safety and security if Indian diaspora and expeditions investigation into these incidents.” She said the foreign secretary had discussed the matter with senior US functionaries during his recent visit to the US from February 28 to March 3.
CPI-M member Sitaram Yechury said, “If the incidents are a part of a growing trend, what is the government planning to do about it.” CPI member D Raja said Indians in the US were gripped by a sense of insecurity. He said, “Hate is coming from the approach of the US administration. We have strategic partnership with the US, but that should not stop us from raising our voice.”