Biden Blasted for Feting Human Rights Offender Modi

June 30th, 2023 - by Brett Wilkins / Common Dreams & Hon. Pramila Jayapal / House of Representatives

Human Rights Defenders Blast Biden’s ‘Shameful’
Red Carpet Welcome for Indian PM Modi
Brett Wilkins / Common Dreams

(June 18, 2023) — Human rights defenders this week condemned President Joe Biden’s upcoming state dinner for Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi — who was once banned from entering the United States for supporting violent Hindu supremacists who massacred Muslims — as part of an ongoing US “whitewash” of the right-wing leader’s extremism.

Modi — who represents the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) — is set to meet with Biden and speak before Congress this week in a visit the White House says “will strengthen our two countries’ shared commitment to a free, open, prosperous, and secure Indo-Pacific.”

However, rights groups and activists are condemning Biden’s embrace of Modi while underscoring the grave human rights violations committed by the prime minister, his party, and their allies.

“Increasingly in recent years, BJP leaders
have used toxic and hateful speech targeting
religious minorities, inciting violence or
discrimination against them.”

“For almost a decade now, human rights activists and others have regularly brought to the White House — Democrats or Republicans — that Modi’s regime is authoritarian, it’s right-wing, it’s anti-Muslim, and it’s anti-minority” Suchitra Vijayan, author of Midnight’s Borders: A People’s History of Modern IndiatoldHuffPost.

“The fact that they continue to whitewash him by giving them a platform is very worrying,” she added.

Vijayan noted that “despite who is in the White House, the US has a long history of propping up authoritarian regimes for its own personal ends.”

John Prabhudoss, chairman of the Federation of Indian American Christian Organizations, told HuffPost that Indian pastors and their families live in constant terror.

“Their family could be jailed or even the worst, killed. The fear is real,” he said. “For the president to bring [Modi] to the White House… is shameful. Mr. Biden, shame on you.”

In a June 8 letter to Biden, Human Rights Watch (HRW) called Modi’s visit “an important opportunity for the US government to raise concerns — both privately and publicly — about India’s worsening human rights situation.”

The letter stated:
There are numerous areas of concern. Increasingly in recent years, BJP leaders have used toxic and hateful speech targeting religious minorities, inciting violence or discrimination against them. BJP-led authorities have tightened restrictions on free speech while ramping up censorship and using overbroad and vague laws to investigate and prosecute critics.
Modi’s government has also demonstrated blatant bias in protecting BJP supporters and affiliates accused [of] a range of crimes, including murder, assault, corruption, and sexual violence.
At the international level, Modi’s government has often proven unwilling to stand with other governments on key human rights crises, abstaining or refraining from condemning grave human rights violations elsewhere. [See letter below.]

HRW and Amnesty International are set to host a private screening of a BBC documentary on Modi and his role in the 2002 Gujarat riots. The film, India: The Modi Question, was banned by the government, which raided the BBC‘s India offices over what officials called a tax probe but critics condemned as retaliation in line with Modi’s attacks on press freedom.

Reporters Without Borders ranks India 161st out of 180 nations in press freedom, behind Afghanistan and just ahead of Russia. This is a dismal state of affairs in the world’s so-called largest “democracy.”

Modi, who was chief minister of the western state of Gujarat at the time of the 2002 slaughter, blamed Muslims for torching a train full of Hindu pilgrims, an attack that killed around 60 people. Hindu mobs then murdered at least hundreds, and perhaps thousands, of Muslim men, women, and children in a retaliatory rampage, with many women raped and mutilated.

More than 250 Hindus were also killed during the violence, which displaced an estimated 150,000 people.

A UK government probe found that Modi was “directly responsible” for the “climate of impunity” surrounding the massacre.

While Modi was accused of deliberately allowing the violence, a special investigation commissioned by the Indian Supreme Court cleared him of complicity in 2012. Still, Modi’s alleged role in the massacre led to a US visa ban, first instated during the George W. Bush administration in 2005. The ban was lifted by then-President Barack Obama’s administration in 2014 after Modi became prime minister.

Violence — sometimes deadly — against religious minorities and others has continued, and increased, under BJP rule.

As the Indian American Muslim Council (IAMC) notes:
The US government and numerous internationally recognized organizations have condemned Modi for his and his political party’s attacks on core democratic freedoms, as well as their roles in enabling violence against Indian minorities.
The 2023 Report on International Religious Freedom by the Department of State highlights hate speeches by leaders of Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party, which have contributed to anti-Muslim and anti-Christian violence; the BJP’s criminalization of religious conversion; BJP-led demolitions of Muslim-owned propertiesHindu supremacist rewriting of school curricula; arbitrary arrests of Muslims; and denial of bail for jailed Muslim activists.
For four years running, the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) has designated India as a Country of Particular Concern for its egregious violations of human rights and religious freedomsciting similar abuses.

“To fail to note Modi’s violent, anti-minority, authoritarian tendencies, and his corrupt mismanagement of the Indian economy, is not only to ignore the US government’s own findings but a strategic blunder with the potential to jeopardize global stability,” IAMC said.

“The turmoil Modi and the BJP have sown within Indian society is a profound threat to regional stability and has the potential to substantially undermine any joint initiatives,” the group argued.

Derek Grossman, a senior defense analyst with the Rand Corporation, said in an interview published Saturday by the Financial Times, “The question is, are we propping up an increasingly illiberal democracy here?”

“In my view, we are,” he asserted. “We have taken the view that geopolitics and countering China is more important to us right now than the values-based diplomacy the Biden administration came in saying they would prioritize.”

Modi stoked the deadly Gujarat riots of 2002.

Some congressional Democrats have also faced criticism for their varying degrees of support for Modi and the BJP.

When then-President Donald Trump embraced the Indian leader at the raucous 2019 “Howdy Modi!” rally in Houston, six Democrats took to the stage to greet Modi: then-House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (Md.); Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (Texas); Rep. Carolyn Maloney (N.Y.); Rep. Danny Davis (Ill.); Rep. Tom Suozzi (N.Y.), an erstwhile critic of Indian human rights abuses in Kashmir; and Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi (Ill.).

Krishnamoorthi has attended the World Hindu Congress, a notorious platform for Hindu nationalists including Mohan Bhagwat, leader of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), a fascist-inspired political and paramilitary movement whose brand of Hindu supremacy heavily influenced the rise of the BJP. Modi is a former RSS regional director.

Others, like Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Congressional Progressive Caucus Chair Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), and Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.), have been unwaveringly critical of Modi’s policies and practices.

Then there is the curious case of Rep. Ro Khanna. Invoking the name of his grandfather Amarnath Vidyalankar, a figure in India’s independence movement who served multiple terms in parliament, the California Democrat in 2019 declared that “it’s the duty of every American politician of Hindu faith to stand for pluralism, reject Hindutva, and speak for equal rights for Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs, Buddhist, and Christians.”

Hindutva — literally, “Hindu-ness” — is the modern political ideology espoused by Modi, the BJP, and many of their extremist allies advocating Hindu supremacy and the transformation of secular India into an ethno-nationalist state.

However, last month IAMC expressed its disappointment that Khanna asked House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) to invite Modi to deliver a joint address before Congress during his state visit to Washington. Khanna’s request — which was made with Rep. Michael Waltz (R-Fla.,) — contended that “granting a joint address to Congress is a commensurate honor for the leader of the world’s largest democracy and perhaps the most critical partner to countering China in the 21st century.”

In response, IAMC cautioned that “the opportunity to speak before Congress will help to legitimize Modi’s brand of Hindu nationalist politics and the systematic persecution of religious minorities, particularly Muslims and Christians, under his rule.”

“Khanna has previously and admirably criticized Hindu nationalism, Rahul Gandhi’s expulsion from parliament, and disingenuous cries of Hinduphobia used to deflect legitimate criticism of the Indian government,” the group added. “IAMC urges Rep. Khanna to continue this fight, cancel his request, and instead educate his constituents about the harms the Modi regime has done to India.”

A Letter of Concern to Biden over Meeting with Modi
Hon. Pramila Jayapal / House of Representatives

WASHINGTON (June 20, 2023) — Today, US Representative Pramila Jayapal (WA-07) and US Senator Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) led a bicameral letter with over 70 of their colleagues, urging President Biden to discuss the need to protect human rights and democratic values in India as he meets with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi this week.

“As the world’s oldest democracy and the world’s largest democracy, the United States and India have forged a close relationship based on strategic interests and shared democratic values. India is an important member of the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (the ‘Quad’) and a crucial partner for stability in the Indo-Pacific,” the Members begin.

As longtime supporters of a strong US-India relationship, we also believe that friends can and should discuss their 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 continue.

“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. Specifically, the State Department’s 2022 Country Report on Human Rights Practices in India documents the tightening of political rights and expression.

“Similarly, the State Department’s 2022 Report on International Religious Freedom in India details the worrisome increase of religious intolerance toward minorities and religiously motivated violence by both private and state actors. Further, the annual assessments compiled by Reporters Without Borders show that India, a country that has been known in the past for its vibrant and independent press, has fallen significantly in the rankings for press freedom.  And according to Access Now, India ranks first in terms of the most Internet shutdowns for the fifth year in a row,” they note.

“We join you in welcoming Prime Minister Modi to the United States. We want a close and warm relationship between the people of the United States and the people of India. We want that friendship to be built not only on our many shared interests but also on shared values. 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. 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 Members write in closing.

Van Hollen and Jayapal were joined in sending the letter by Senators Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Ben Cardin (D-MD), Tom Carper (D-DE), Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), Richard Durbin (D-IL), Martin Heinrich (D-NM), Mazie Hirono (D-HI), Tim Kaine (D-VA), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Brian Schatz (D-HI), Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Peter Welch (D-VT), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), and Ron Wyden (D-OR) as well as Representatives Jake Auchincloss (MA-04), Becca Balint (VT-At Large), Nanette Diaz Barragán (CA-44), Earl Blumenauer (OR-03), Suzanne Bonamici (OR-01), Tony Cárdenas (CA-29), André Carson (IN-07), Greg Casar (TX-35), Sean Casten (IL-06), Judy Chu (CA-28), Yvette D. Clarke (NY-09), Emanuel Cleaver (MO-05), Steve Cohen (TN-09), Jason Crow (CO-06), Mark DeSaulnier (CA-10), Lloyd Doggett (TX-37), Veronica Escobar (TX-16), Anna G. Eshoo (CA-16), Valerie Foushee (NC-04), Maxwell Frost (FL-10), Jesús G. “Chuy” García (IL-04), Robert Garcia (CA-42), Sylvia Garcia (TX-29), Dan Goldman (NY-10), Al Green (TX-09), Raúl M. Grijalva (AZ-07), Jared Huffman (CA-02), Henry C. “Hank” Johnson, Jr. (GA-04), Robin Kelly (IL-02), John B. Larson (CT-01), Barbara Lee (CA-12), Mike Levin (CA-49), Betty McCollum (MN-04), James P. McGovern (MA-02), Grace Meng (NY-06), Kweisi Mfume (MD-07), Seth Moulton (MA-06), Jerrold Nadler (NY-12), Mark Pocan (WI-02), Mike Quigley (IL-05), Delia Ramirez (IL-03), Jamie Raskin (MD-08), Linda Sánchez (CA-38), John Sarbanes (MD-03), Mary Gay Scanlon (PA-05), Jan Schakowsky (IL-09), Elissa Slotkin (MI-07), Mark Takano (CA-39), Mike Thompson (CA-04), Jill Tokuda (HI-02), David Trone (MD-06), Juan Vargas (CA-52), Nydia M. Velázquez (NY-07), Bonnie Watson Coleman (NJ-12), Susan Wild (PA-07), and Nikema Williams (GA-05).

The full text of the letter is available here.

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