Congress must do its part to urge Indian govt to correct its course, says US lawmaker

Washington, Mar 22 (PTI): The US Congress must do its part to urge the Indian government to correct the course, and reconsider policies and laws, including counter-terrorism laws that are “inconsistent” with the obligations India has acquired through its ratification of key human rights treaties, an influential American lawmaker said Thursday.

On April 19, multi-phase general elections will kick off in India to determine the country’s political direction for the next five years. Prime Minister Narendra Modi is seeking a third term, said Congressman James McGovern, Co-Chair of the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission, during a hearing on human rights in India.

“I’m one of those people who think that friends should tell each other hard truths. And India is a friend, and it is truly important to the US that India prospers. Yet there is a real risk that the tensions inherent in diverse societies could harden into dangerous conflicts and undermine India’s bright future if human rights abuses are not addressed,” McGovern said.

“The recent communal violence between ethnic Hindu and Christian communities in Manipur state is just but one example. Congress must do its part to urge the Indian government to correct course and reconsider policies and laws, including counter-terrorism laws that are inconsistent with the obligations India has acquired through its ratification of key human rights treaties,” he said.

In his remarks, Congressman Chris Smith, Co-Chair of the committee said that India is a country of particular concern. “I would put an H in there, huge particular concern for their egregious behaviour. And Modi looks at what we do and say, they don’t care. That’s what the takeaway is by his government and by him personally. So I would encourage you to continue on,” he said.

“…And geopolitical concerns are enhanced, I believe, and the ability for us to have credibility. When we name countries on CPC and exclude egregious violators like India, what does that say to the other countries that are on the list? They look at us as hypocrites, and that’s not good either,” Smith said.

Carolyn Nash, Asia Advocacy Director, Amnesty International USA told lawmakers that the US government has recognised acts of transnational repression by the Government of India in Canada, which led to the assassination of an activist, as well as attempts here in the United States.

“The scale of oppression facing human rights defenders, both in and out of India, limits the availability of information about human rights violations committed by the Indian government, information that should influence how the US and other governments engage the Modi administration and how the private sector makes choices about investment,” she alleged.

“I can provide documentation of the government’s intensifying efforts to weaponise and codify into law intolerance and hate… Of particular concern are the expansion of the government’s abuse of vague and overbroad laws to shut down dissent, the increases in leaders’ use of hate speech and vilification of religious groups, and the recent rollout of the CAA and its discriminatory citizenship process, which could set the stage for millions to be deprived of citizenship,” Nash told the lawmakers.

“It is up to the US lawmakers to respond to these efforts, but the situation is worsening quickly, and it would be a mistake to imagine that the US and other concerned governments are geopolitically constrained from taking action. As India prepares for elections, we urge the US government, both members of Congress and administration officials, to communicate to the government of India that the US will condemn hateful rhetoric, legal harassment of civil society, and the targeting of religious and ethnic groups,” she said.

“The BJP party is eager to demonstrate to their base that they are delivering on supremacist promises. We know the lead up to the election will be a particularly dangerous time. We also know that Prime Minister Modi will be particularly sensitive to messages from other governments, and especially from senior leaders,” Nash said.

Waris Husain, Legal Advisor, American Bar Association Centre for Human Rights said the Congress needs to more forcefully urge the US President to speak directly to Prime Minister Modi about these concerns.

“It’s ultimately Prime Minister Modi who has the power to instruct his government, his party, about their toxic rhetoric and their abusive laws and policies and get them to drop this abusive form of governance. Members of Congress and President Biden need to acknowledge the scope and gravity of this situation,” he said.

“Biden’s embrace of Modi and reluctance to criticize the government for this situation will be understood by India to mean that the worsening conduct will have no consequences, and that cannot be the situation. So my last point would merely be that doing so, failing to say anything to Prime Minister Modi about this deteriorating situation sends a terrible message that the US government cares more about him, about Modi, as a leader, than about the people of India whom Modi was elected to serve,” Husain said. PTI LKJ MNK MNK MNK

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