Two to boycott Modi’s speech, 75 Democrats in US Congress urge Biden to raise rights issues in talks with him

The Biden Administration has been conveying to the Modi Government its concerns over the perception in the US about the backsliding of democracy in India.
nirban Bhaumik
Last Updated : 21 June 2023, 02:38 IST
Last Updated : 21 June 2023, 02:38 IST
Last Updated : 21 June 2023, 02:38 IST
Last Updated : 21 June 2023, 02:38 IST

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As many as 75 members of the United States Congress urged President Joe Biden to convey to Prime Minister Narendra Modi concerns over the reports about growing religious intolerance, shrinking of political space, curbs on freedom of the press and erosion of human rights in India.

Two members of the American House of Representatives – Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar – also took to Twitter to announce their decision to boycott the prime minister’s address to the US Congress on Thursday.

With Modi embarking on his visit to New York and Washington DC on Tuesday, 18 US Senators and 57 members of the House of Representatives – all from the ruling Democratic Party – wrote a letter to Biden, drawing his attention to reports reflecting “troubling signs” in India. A Democrat

“A series of independent, credible reports reflect troubling signs in India toward 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,” the lawmakers, led by Senator Chris Van Hollen and Representative Pramila Jayapal, wrote in the letter to the US president.

“It’s shameful that Modi has been given a platform at our nation’s capital—his long history of human rights abuses, anti-democratic actions, targeting Muslims & (and) religious minorities, and censoring journalists is unacceptable,” tweeted Tlaib, a Democrat Congresswoman, adding: “I will be boycotting Modi’s joint address to Congress.”

“Prime Minister Modi’s government has repressed religious minorities, emboldened violent Hindu nationalist groups, and targeted journalists/human rights advocates with impunity. I will NOT be attending Modi’s speech,” Ilhan Omar, another Democrat Congresswoman, tweeted. She added that she would hold a briefing with human rights groups to discuss the prime minister’s “record of repression and violence”.

Modi, however, said in a statement issued before his departure from New Delhi that Biden’s “special invitation” to him for the state visit to Washington DC was a reflection of the “vigour and vitality of the partnership” between India and the US, the two democratic nations.

Though Modi travelled to the US several times after taking over as the prime minister, this is going to be his first official state visit.

He will lead the International Yoga Day event in New York on Wednesday. He will fly to Washington DC later in the day. Biden and his wife Jill Biden are expected to host a private dinner for him at the White House in the evening. The prime minister and the US president will hold formal talks on Thursday.

The 75 US lawmakers extended support to a close and warm relationship between the people of India and the US and noted that friendship between the two nations should be based on shared values. They also pointed out that friends could and should discuss differences 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 US – you also raise directly with Prime Minister Modi areas of concern,” they wrote to Biden.

Several human rights organisations planned protests during the prime minister’s visit to the US, both in New York and Washington DC. They have been urging Biden to convey to Modi the concerns in the US over the alleged erosion of human rights and religious freedom and the backsliding of democracy in India. Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch planned a screening of the BBC documentary on Modi’s role as the chief minister of Gujarat during the 2002 communal clashes.

New Delhi, however, dismissed the purported plans for protests by the human rights organisations, with Foreign Secretary Vinay Mohan Kwatra highlighting the “deep and widespread positive interests” in the US to take the ties with India to a new level during the Modi-Biden meeting in Washington DC.

The Biden Administration has been conveying to the Modi Government in New Delhi its concerns over the perception in the US about the backsliding of democracy in India.

The US State Department’s 2022 Report on International Religious Freedom referred to attacks against religious minority communities, including Muslims and Christians, as well as the Dalit Hindus in India. The earlier reports of the US State Department on religious freedom have also been referring to the alleged incidents of atrocities and violence against the minority communities in India.

Biden’s Secretary of State Antony Blinken had on April 12 last year said that the US was “monitoring some recent concerning developments in India, including a rise in human rights abuses by some government, police, and prison officials”. He had followed it up on June 2 that year stating that India, the world’s largest democracy and home to a great diversity of faiths, had seen rising attacks on people and places of worship.

The US Commission for International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) too in its reports released in Washington D.C. recommended the Biden Administration to designate India as a ‘Country of Particular Concern’ in view of the drastic downward turn in the religious freedom in the South Asian nation.

Published 20 June 2023, 16:02 IST

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