Welcome Modi but raise concerns: 75 US Senators, Congressional reps tell Biden | Latest News India - Hindustan Times
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Welcome Modi but raise concerns: 75 US Senators, Congressional reps tell Biden

Jun 21, 2023 08:26 AM IST

They asked President Joe Biden to raise issues such as “the shrinking of political space, the rise of religious intolerance, the targeting of civil society organizations and journalists”

Asking President Joe Biden to strengthen India-America ties but also talk to Prime Minister Narendra Modi during his state visit about India’s recent democratic record, 75 United States (US) Senators and Congressional representatives of the Democratic Party have written a letter to Biden outlining their areas of concern.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi arriving in New York on Tuesday. (ANI)
Prime Minister Narendra Modi arriving in New York on Tuesday. (ANI)

They have, citing reports of the US State Department and civil society outfits, asked the President to raise specific issues of “the shrinking of political space, the rise of religious intolerance, the targeting of civil society organizations and journalists, and growing restrictions on press freedoms and internet access” in India.

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Even as they underscored their support for strategic, economic, commercial, defence, and people-to-people ties with India, the legislators noted that friends should speak in an honest and forthright way. “That is why we respectfully request that — in addition to the many areas of shared interests between India and the U.S. — you also raise directly with Prime Minister Modi areas of concern.”

The government of India has consistently rejected criticism of its human rights record, and in the context of the US, blamed it on “votebank politics” and fake information based on inputs by actors with dubious links.

The letter was released on Tuesday afternoon Eastern time, 48 hours before Modi was scheduled to address a joint meeting of the US Congress for the second time, a rare honour.

Senators Chris van Hollen (who attended a private dinner for Congress leader Rahul Gandhi earlier this month and has been a critic of India’s current political trajectory) and Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal (the Indian-origin chief of the Congressional progressive caucus) led the initiative.

Eighteen Senators, including Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, and Tim Kaine, and 57 members of the House of Representatives have signed the letter. For perspective, the total strength of both chambers is 535 seats, and the letter signatories amount to 14% of the US legislature. Jayapal is the only Indian-American of the five representatives who trace their roots to India who has signed the letter.

Beginning the letter on a positive note, the legislators note that both democracies have forged a bond based on strategic interests and shared values. The letter refers to India as a “crucial partner for stability” in the Indo-Pacific, expresses support for bilateral industrial defence cooperation, hails economic ties, and praises the diaspora.

“We trust and expect that these important dimensions of the U.S.-India partnership — strategic, economic and cultural — will be part of your discussion when you meet directly with Prime Minister Modi.”

Based on reports published by the US State Department’s office of international religious freedom, State’s country report on human rights practices, Reporters without Borders, and Access Now, the signatories claim that there has been “tightening of political rights and expression…worrisome increase of religious intolerance towards minorities and religiously motivated violence by private and state actors”.

The signatories told Biden that he had once again made “respect for human rights, press freedom, religious freedom, and pluralism core tenets of American foreign policy” and these must be applied to “friend and foe alike”. They said that both US and India had enshrined free speech, freedom of the press, and religious freedom in their respective Constitutions and shared a special bond through moral leaders such as Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr.

Clarifying again that they welcomed Modi, and sought a closer and warmer relationship between the people of both countries based on interests and values, the signatories said, “We do not endorse any particular Indian leader or political party — that is the decision of the people of India — but we do stand in support of the important principles that should be a core part of American foreign policy. And we ask that, during your meeting with Prime Minister Modi, you discuss the full range of issues important to a successful, strong, and long-term relationship between our two great countries.”

Separately, Rashida Tlaib, a Congresswoman from Michigan who has often been critical of Modi, announced that she would boycott his address to the joint meeting of the US Congress on Thursday. She accused Modi of a “long history of human rights abuses, anti-democratic actions, targeting Muslims & religious minorities, and censoring journalists”.

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