US Congress report warns of repercussions over farmer protests in India

Updated on Mar 17, 2021 05:32 AM IST
The report published by the Congressional Research Service (CRS) could potentially fuel the disquiet already voiced by US lawmakers
A file photo of the dome of the US Capitol Building on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. (REUTERS)
A file photo of the dome of the US Capitol Building on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. (REUTERS)
ByYashwant Raj, Hindustan Times, Washington

A new report by the US Congress’s non-partisan and autonomous research service has taken a critical view of India’s handling of the farmer protests, warning that New Delhi’s position on the ongoing stir could “present a challenge” for the Biden administration as it shapes its Indo-Pacific policy with India as a key partner.

The report published by the Congressional Research Service (CRS) could potentially fuel the disquiet already voiced by US lawmakers.

A congressional aide referring to the US Congress by its location, Capitol Hill, said that at the least, “if CRS has a published report on a topic, it indicates that the topic has generated some notable level of interest on the Hill”.

“By some accounts, the crackdown on dissent has been excessive and reflective of a broader trend towards authoritarianism in India,” says the CRS report, drawing mostly upon news reports, commentaries and analyses in Indian and foreign media publications.

“Perceived backsliding in India’s democracy and human rights record may present a challenge for the Biden administration in formulating its policies towards India and the Indo-Pacific,” the report adds.

The report was published before the historic first-ever summit-level meeting of the Quad, which is singularly focused on the Indo-Pacific, called by President Joe Biden with the stated goals of making a “a clear statement of the importance of the Indo-Pacific region” and to put his “stamp” on the Quad process.

As of now, Biden’s Indo-Pacific policy is on course and was rolled out seemingly unaffected by the Narendra Modi government’s handling of the farmer protests.

But the CRS report, as the congressional aide quoted above pointed out, reflects simmering unease among some US lawmakers, who might have been too distracted in recent weeks with domestic compulsions, such as confirmation hearings of the president’s nominees and the passing of his $1.9-trillion Covid-19 relief bill.

In early February, Brad Sherman, the Democratic lawmaker who co-chairs the House India Caucus, tweeted: “I urge the Indian government to make sure the norms of democracy are maintained and that protesters are allowed to protest peaceably, and to have access to the Internet and to journalists. All friends of India hope that the parties can reach an agreement.”

Sherman, Steve Chabot, the Republican co-chair of the Caucus, and Ro Khanna, the Indian-American who is co-chair, also raised the issue in a meeting with the Indian ambassador to the United States, Taranjit Singh Sandhu.

But another congressional aide cautioned against overestimating the impact of the CRS report, contending that it should be worrying for India only “in theory”, because Saudi Arabia got away despite being a serial violator of civic norms that deny democratic rights to its people and has the blood of slain journalist Jamal Khashoggi on its hands.

The Trump administration took no public position on the farmer protests in India, possibly because it could have been distracted at the time by a worsening of the Covid-19 pandemic, and the 2020 election.

In its first response to the protests, which was attracting growing international attention by then, including in America, Biden’s state department said it encouraged a resolution to the agitation through dialogue, but it also showed support for underlying reforms that triggered the protests.

“In general, the United States welcomes steps that would improve the efficiency of India’s markets and attract greater private sector investment,” the state department said on February 3.

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