India's democracy ensures 'robust debate': Pompeo

India's democracy ensures 'robust debate': Pompeo

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said that India's democracy ensures that there is robust debate to safeguard minorities and religious rights

Secretary of State, United States Mike Pompeo. (AFP Photo)

The US honours India's democracy as it ensures a "robust debate" within the country on safeguarding the minorities and religious rights, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has said, amidst the widespread protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act across India.

Pompeo's remarks came on Wednesday at the conclusion of the second India-US 2+2 dialogue. The US Secretary of State met External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar for a bilateral meeting. Thereafter, they were joined by Defence Minister Rajnath Singh and Defence Secretary Mark Esper for the second 2+2 dialogue here.

"We care deeply and always will about protecting minorities and religious rights everywhere. We honour Indian democracy as they have a robust debate on the issue that you raised," Pompeo told reporters at a news conference here.

The top American diplomat was responding to a question on the protests in India after the passage of the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), alleging that this is religiously discriminatory in nature.

"The question that you asked relating to India, if you had followed the debate on that particular legislation carefully, you would see that it is a measure which is designed to address the needs of persecuted religious minorities from certain countries," Jaishankar said in his response to the question.

"If you look at what those countries are and therefore what their minorities are, perhaps you understand why certain religions were identified in terms of characterising those who had come across," Jaishankar said.

At a press briefing after the 2+2 dialogue, a senior State Department official said India is a vibrant democracy and has institutions to address concerns of religious freedom and human rights, refusing to treat the country at par with other nations on such issues which constitute the core of its values and diplomacy.

The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told reporters that human rights and religious freedom were a core issue for the Trump administration and for Secretary of State Pompeo.

"There is a debate going on in India over this very legislation. It's a legislation that will be reviewed by the courts. It's being protested by political parties. It's being debated in the media. All of these institutions exist in a democratic India and so we respect that process," said the senior State Department official.

The official was responding to a question on protests in India on CAA.

According to the CAA, members of Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Jain, Parsi and Christian communities who have come from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan till December 31, 2014 following religious persecution there will get Indian citizenship.

The protesters claim that the legislation is "unconstitutional and divisive" as it excludes Muslims.

The official said at the same time, the US would continue to express its concerns on this issue.

"I think as (US) Ambassador (on International Religious Freedom, Samuel) Brownback has already commented, we have concerns about religious criteria, but again, this is a piece of legislation now, an act, that is continuing to be reviewed within the Indian system," the official said.

Noting that the US regularly raises these issues with India, the official, however, did not confirm if the developments post CAA featured during the talks at the State Department on Wednesday.

"There may be individual policies that are going to evoke concern. We will express our concern, we engage with the Indian Government regularly on the full spectrum of issues. But you can't ignore that these are not policies that are being done in the dark, and so we have to respect that debate, and as well as add our voice to it when appropriate," said the senior official. PTI LKJ RDK MRJ AKJ MRJ

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