UNITED STATES: US rights organisations plan demonstrations next week against Indian PM Narendra Modi’s official visit to Washington due to what they call India’s poor human rights record, even though experts do not anticipate Washington being publicly critical of New Delhi.
On June 22, organisations such as the Bethesda African Cemetery Coalition, Veterans for Peace, Peace Action, and the Indian American Muslim Council are to assemble nearby, when Modi is scheduled to meet US President Joe Biden.
Washington wants to strengthen connections with the biggest democracy in the world because it sees it as a counterbalance to China, but rights activists are concerned that geopolitics will take precedence over human rights concerns.
The targeting of religious minorities, dissidents, and journalists by the Indian government is one of the United States’ reported human rights concerns regarding India.
The parties protesting printed flyers with the messages “Modi Not Welcome” and “Save India from Hindu Supremacy.”
Another event is scheduled in New York with a performance called “Howdy Democracy,” a play on the slogan of the 2019 “Howdy Modi!” rally in Texas that included the Indian prime minister and the then-US President Donald Trump.
The next week, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch will organise a screening in Washington, DC, of a BBC documentary on Modi that questioned his management of the deadly riots in Gujarat in 2002. They have invited journalists, policymakers, and analysts for the screening.
In a letter to Biden, Elaine Pearson, the director of Human Rights Watch’s Asia division, urged the White House to voice worries, both privately and publicly, about India’s human rights during Modi’s visit.
“We strongly urge you to use your meetings with Prime Minister Modi to urge Modi to move his government and his party in a different direction,” her letter reads.
Analysts believe that none of this will significantly alter the Biden-Modi discussions.
Former State Department official Donald Camp, who also works for the Centre for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, said, “My guess is that human rights will not be much of a focus of the conversation.”
Camp stated that in order for the Modi visit to be viewed favourably by both sides, Washington would be reluctant to bring up the subject of human rights.
The American State Department has stated that it often brings up human rights issues with Indian authorities and respects the free speech rights of Americans to protest Modi.
According to a report by Reporters Without Borders, India has dropped from 140th in the World Press Freedom Index to 161st this year, its lowest ranking ever since Modi entered office in 2014. It has also topped the list for the most internet shutdowns internationally for five consecutive years.
Critics mention a citizenship law from 2019 that the UN human rights office called “fundamentally discriminatory” because it excluded Muslim immigrants, anti-conversion legislation that questioned the constitutionally guaranteed right to freedom of religion, and the revocation of Kashmir’s special status in 2019.
Under Biden, Washington has shown some muted concern, as seen by statements made by Secretary of State Antony Blinken and the State Department in their 2023 reports on human rights and religious freedom.
The head of the South Asia Institute at the Wilson Centre think tank in Washington, Michael Kugelman, said that while the China factor is undoubtedly a major reason why the US tackles rights and democracy issues in India with “kid gloves”, it goes much deeper.
“The US views India as an important long-term partner,” he added.