Biden calls PM, discusses ways to strengthen democracy

Biden stresses on 'democracy at home and abroad' during phone-call with Modi

Prime Minister Narendra Modi with Joe Biden. PM Modi tweeted this picture to congratulate Biden on becoming the 46th President of the United States. Credit: Twitter/@narendramodi

With American President-elect Joe Biden indicating that “strengthening democracy at home and abroad” will be a priority for his administration’s engagement with India, New Delhi has started reaching out to the United States lawmakers, who earlier expressed concern over shutdowns imposed in Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) last year.

Biden and Prime Minister Narendra Modi spoke to each other over phone late on Tuesday. “The President-elect noted that he looks forward to working closely with the Prime Minister on shared global challenges, including containing Covid-19 and against future health crises, tackling the threat of climate change, launching the global economic recovery, strengthening democracy at home and abroad, and maintaining a secure and prosperous Indo-Pacific region,” according to a statement released by the office of Biden on Wednesday.

The statement issued by the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) in New Delhi on Modi-Biden phone-call late on Tuesday had no mention of the discussion between the two leaders “on strengthening democracy at home and abroad”.

Biden referred to “strengthening democracy at home and abroad” in talks with Modi amid speculation in New Delhi and Washington D.C. that the new regime in the White House might press the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government hard on issues of alleged violation of human rights and purported curbs on religious freedom in India.

Biden pledged ahead of the election that his administration would make the US once again play its traditional role as a champion of human rights around the world.

Taranjit Singh Sandhu, New Delhi’s envoy to Washington D.C., recently had a discussion over phone with US Senator, Chris Van Hollen, whom the Modi’s Government had last year denied permission to visit Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) after the erstwhile state was stripped off its special status and reorganized into two Union Territories.

“Engaging conversation this afternoon with Senator @ChrisVanHollen on the partnerships for our 2 (two) democracies in vaccines, public health, clean energy, higher education and digital technologies,” Sandhu posted on Twitter on Tuesday.

Hollen, who was born in Karachi and studied for a few years at Kodaikanal in Tamil Nadu, was among four American Senators, who in September 2019 wrote to the US President Donald Trump, expressing concern over the human rights situation in J&K and urging him to nudge New Delhi to ease restrictions, lift communication blackout and set free political leaders and activists detained in the wake of the Modi Government's August 5 decision on the erstwhile state. They noted that situation for people of J&K was turning more difficult with each passing day. They again wrote to US Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, just before Trump’s visit to Ahmedabad and New Delhi expressing concern over “troubling actions taken by the current government” in New Delhi on J&K.

Sandhu also spoke over phone to another American Senator, Chris Coons, who joined 13 others to ask President Donald Trump’s administration a couple of months back to implement the recommendation of the US Commission for International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) to designate India, along with some other nations, as a “Country of Particular Concern”. The USCIRF’s recommendation was based on what it believed as a “sharp downward turn” in religious freedom in India.

Coons is one of the frontrunners for the office of the US Secretary of State in the Biden Administration. He had last year joined other US lawmakers to extend solidarity with India after the killing of 40 paramilitary personnel in a terror attack at Pulwama in J&K on February 14 last year.

“Warm & (and) substantive conversation w/ (with) Senator @ChrisCoons on India-US partnership in furthering mutual interests & (and) meeting common challenges. Appreciated his commitment to deepening our collaborations in areas of clean energy, health, edu (education), bio and digital technologies,” tweeted India’s ambassador to the US.

The Modi Government drew flak from some of the US lawmakers last year for detention of political leaders and activists, shutdowns and restrictions imposed in J&K. The US lawmakers also criticized the Bharatiya Janata Party’s government for the new Citizenship Amendment Act and process of updating the National Register of Citizens (NRC) in Assam. “We have to remind the Kashmiris that they are not alone in the world,” Biden’s Indian American running mate and the Vice-President-elect, Kamala Harris, said in October 2019, when she was still in the race for the Democratic Party’s nomination to contest the US presidential elections. She also criticized External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar in December 2019, when he cancelled a meeting with a group of US lawmakers, because it included Pramila Jayapal, who introduced a bipartisan resolution in the American House of Representatives asking New Delhi to end restrictions on communication and arbitrary detentions in the J&K.

Biden too not only argued in favour of asking New Delhi ahead of the elections to take all necessary measures to restore rights of all people in Kashmir, but also expressed disappointment over the CAA and the NRC.