Dozens of Democratic lawmakers in the United States have called on President Joe Biden to address human rights issues during Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to Washington.
In a letter sent to the White House and signed by 75 members of Congress, including 18 senators and 57 representatives, the lawmakers emphasised the importance of upholding core principles in American foreign policy.
“We do not endorse any particular Indian leader or political party — that is the decision of the people of India — but we do stand in support of the important principles that should be a core part of American foreign policy,” said the letter, led by Senator Chris Van Hollen and Representative Pramila Jayapal.
“And we ask that, during your meeting with Prime Minister Modi, you discuss the full range of issues important to a successful, strong, and long-term relationship between our two great countries,” the letter said.
Modi’s visit to Washington is seen as a significant milestone in bilateral relations between India and the United States. Although Modi has visited the United States multiple times before, this trip holds special significance as it grants him the full diplomatic status of a state visit.
However, concerns have been raised regarding the human rights situation in India under the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which follows Hindu nationalist ideology. Critics argue that the deteriorating human rights situation should be addressed during the visit.
While the United States hopes for closer ties with India, considering it a potential counterweight to China, human rights advocates fear that geopolitical considerations might overshadow the discussion of human rights issues. In March, the State Department’s annual report on human rights practices highlighted significant human rights concerns and abuses in India. This report, coupled with independent and credible sources, has prompted lawmakers to call for an open and honest dialogue between Biden and Modi.
During his visit, Modi is scheduled to address a joint meeting of the House and Senate, a significant honor bestowed on foreign dignitaries. In their letter, the lawmakers highlighted troubling signs in India, including the shrinking of political space, religious intolerance, the targeting of civil society organisations and journalists, and increasing restrictions on press freedoms and internet access. They stressed the importance of discussing these areas of concern in addition to the shared interests between the two countries.
As of now, the White House has not responded to the letter or made any public statements regarding human rights concerns in India. However, previous remarks by White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre indicated that President Biden recognizes the significance of the relationship with India and the importance of addressing human rights issues.
The visit by Prime Minister Modi provides an opportunity for both leaders to engage in a frank and forthright discussion on these matters while fostering a close and warm relationship based on shared values.