Condemn Prophet remarks but welcome BJP action: US

Updated on Jun 18, 2022 02:31 AM IST

Even as concerns over human rights are a clear area of divergence between the two countries, there continues to be a greater willingness across the US administration to take a wider and more balanced look at India’s position on Russia.

The United States (US) has condemned the “offensive remarks” made by the now expelled or suspended Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) spokespersons on Prophet Muhammed, but also said that it was “glad” to see the ruling party condemn those remarks. (ANI)
The United States (US) has condemned the “offensive remarks” made by the now expelled or suspended Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) spokespersons on Prophet Muhammed, but also said that it was “glad” to see the ruling party condemn those remarks. (ANI)
By, Washington

The United States (US) has condemned the “offensive remarks” made by the now expelled or suspended Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) spokespersons on Prophet Muhammed, but also said that it was “glad” to see the ruling party condemn those remarks.

It has also, separately, placed India’s relationship with Russia in a historical context, emphasised the growing strategic engagement between the US and India in recent decades and America’s wish to be a “partner of choice” for India, and pointed out that this shift will be a gradual process.

Speaking at a press briefing on Thursday, State Department spokesperson Ned Price, in response to a question on “rising Islamophobia” in India, the comments on the Prophet and the subsequent protests, said, “This is something that we have condemned. We condemn the offensive comments made by two BJP officials, and we were glad to see that the party publicly condemned those comments.”

Price added that the US continued to engage with India on issues of human rights on a consistent basis. “We regularly engage with the Indian Government at senior levels on human rights concerns, including freedom of religion or belief, and we encourage India to promote respect for human rights.”

Referring to Secretary of State Antony J Blinken’s visit to India last year, Price said that the Secretary had underlined how Indians and Americans believe in the same values — human dignity, human respect, equality of opportunity, and the freedom of religion or belief. “These are fundamental tenets, these are fundamental values within any democracy, and we speak up for them around the world”.

The State Department’s comments come in the wake of both domestic developments in India — where the BJP suspended party spokesperson Nupur Sharma and expelled Delhi unit official Naveen Kumar Jindal over their remarks on the Prophet in wake of criticism by West Asian countries, but protests over the remarks have continued, as has criticism over the response by some state governments to the protests — and in the US — where segments within the State Department, civil society and the media have stepped up their criticism of India’s human rights record.

While releasing a report on international religious freedom prepared by an office within the State Department, on June 2, Blinken said, “In India, the world’s largest democracy and home to a great diversity of faiths, we have seen rising attacks on people and places of worship.”

In an editorial on Tuesday, titled “The US must oppose India’s rising Islamophobia”, the Washington Post wrote that the recent backlash had shown that Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the BJP might respond if other countries “object to rife anti-Muslim sentiments in India, tolerated or encouraged by his party”, and called for the US to “increase the pressure”. While noting Blinken’s recent remarks, the Post called on the White House to directly intervene. “India could be a pluralistic democracy or a country defined by a dark, intolerant nationalism. The United States should work actively in favour of the former.”

Even as concerns over human rights are a clear area of divergence between the two countries, there continues to be a greater willingness across the US administration to take a wider and more balanced look at India’s position on Russia.

When asked about India’s import of oil from Russia and whether the US was willing to step in to help, Price — reinforcing national security advisor Jake Sullivan’s remarks on Thursday — acknowledged the different relationships that India and the US have with Russia due to historical factors.

“We have had a number of discussions with our Indian partners, and the point that we have made is that every country is going to have a different relationship with Moscow. India’s relationship with Russia is one that developed over the course of decades, and it developed over the course of decades at a time when the United States wasn’t prepared or able to be a partner of choice for the Indian Government.”

But this, Price noted, had changed now and there was a bipartisan consensus going back to the Bill Clinton administration and “certainly” to the George W Bush administration about the need for closer ties with India. “This is a legacy of a bipartisan tradition now that has been the case for more than two decades...where the United States has sought a partnership with India, has sought to be a partner of choice for India, including when it comes to the security realm.”

This shift, Price said, will be a gradual one, noting that Russia’s relationship with India grew over decades. “As countries reorient their relationship with Moscow, as we have seen many of them do, this will be a gradual process. But throughout it all, we have made clear to our Indian partners that we are there for them, we are ready and able and willing to partner with them, and we have done just that.”

The State Department noted the intense high-level engagement between the two sides in recent weeks, including the 2+2 dialogue in April, Quad, and a scheduled virtual summit between President Joe Biden and PM Modi as a part of I2-U2, a grouping that includes Israel, the United Arab Emirates, the US and India, in July.

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  • ABOUT THE AUTHOR

    Prashant Jha is the Washington DC-based US correspondent of Hindustan Times. He is also the editor of HT Premium. Jha has earlier served as editor-views and national political editor/bureau chief of the paper. He is the author of How the BJP Wins: Inside India's Greatest Election Machine and Battles of the New Republic: A Contemporary History of Nepal.

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