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Blinken’s Blinkered Vision Of Indian Democracy Suits Modi – OpEd

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By Nirendra Dev

(UCA News) — Prior to becoming US vice president, Kamala Harris lashed out at the Indian government in 2019, declaring: “Kashmiris are not alone. We are all watching. So often, when we see human rights abuses, the abuser will convince those that they abuse that nobody cares and that nobody’s watching.”

But once in power, the strategic situation seems to have brought some changes on the ground. So, when it comes to candid talks about human rights and media freedom in India, especially under self-declared Hindutva champion Narendra Modi, the differences between the Biden administration and the Trump administration seem to have done a vanishing act, almost. 

In September 2019, Donald Trump said: “Like a father would bring it together. Maybe he [Modi] is the father of India. We will call him the father of India.”

This was in Houston and later, in a tweet, Modi said “history was made” at the mega joint rally and show of strength by the leaders of the two democracies. In February 2020, during his visit to India, Trump did not condemn Hindu-Muslim clashes on the streets of national capital Delhi.

Move over, a top executive of the Democrat-led administration has now also let the Modi dispensation go virtually scot-free.

True, a lot of hopes were placed on the Joe Biden regime — a dispensation of the Democrats. But Antony Blinken, the US secretary of state, let down liberals and other detractors of Modi during his two-day visit to India.

“The most remarkable democratic election in the world, in many ways, is here in India,” Blinken told a press conference. “Americans admire Indians’ commitment to rights, democracy and pluralism. Indian democracy is powered by its free-thinking citizens. I approach this with humility.” 

Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leaders could not have it better! They say the much-planned propaganda against the prime minister has fallen flat.

Modi himself later talked about the shared democratic values of the two countries. “I welcome President Biden’s strong commitment to strengthening the India-US Strategic Partnership, which is anchored in our shared democratic values and is a force for global good,” Modi tweeted after his meeting with Blinken.

BJP spokesman Gaurav Bhatia says it was a letdown for the lobby that was banking on foreign powers and top diplomatic executives to show India in a poor light. 

Blinken’s visit and talks with Indian Foreign Minister Dr. S. Jaishankar actually chalked out a roadmap for a new approach to Afghanistan and to boost bilateral ties.

Congress leader Sanjay Jha obviously feels the visiting US dignitary did not do himself justice. “America is self-focused because if it looks at a big consumer market or labor market, it’s very unlikely to ignore it as its business, military-industrial complex is huge.”

Nationalist Congress Party leader Majeed Memon also said he felt “let down” by Blinken’s statement. 

A C Michael, rights activist and former member of Delhi Minorities Commission, said Blinken’s response shows an Indian reality.

Blinken’s reaction “tells me that not just we citizens of India fear in making comments against present dispensation, in fact even the foreign dignitaries fear to speak the truth.”

“I will not be exaggerating If claim that our country is no longer the largest democracy in the world in a real sense,” Michael said.

A section of neutral political observers had presumed that Blinken would be doing some plain speaking at a time when the Indian government is in constant confrontation with Twitter. 

Moreover, the government does not have good relations with the Indian media as the phones of a number of journalists and opposition leaders have allegedly been spied on using Pegasus software — an allegation the government has strongly denied. But the ongoing monsoon session of parliament is paralyzed by the Pegasus row.

There was another reason that raised hopes that Blinken would be talking candidly. Only the other day, Assistant Secretary of State Dean Thompson said: “With respect to the human rights and democracy question, yes, you’re right; I will tell you that we will raise it [during Blinken’s meeting with his Indian counterpart] and we will continue that conversation.”

However, when the real time came, Blinken’s views were blinkered by challenges in Afghanistan and other diplomatic necessities.

India and the US are deep strategic partners and in more ways than one have aligned among themselves and partners like Australia and Japan, forming a quad in the Indo-Pacific region. This bloc has irked China and another giant in the region, Russia.  

Thus, many say, Blinken could not annoy a touchy and image-conscious Modi regime with glib talk about democracy when its immediate requirements are strategic and economic.

Both India and the US have also cooperated during the Covid crises of 2020 and 2021, when Washington was glad to return the favor to New Delhi.

“What we’re doing together is coordinating, pooling our resources, pooling our thinking, and actively collaborating on a whole variety of issues that have an impact on the lives of our people on Covid-19,” Blinken said.

“It is not the first time the US government has sided with Modi, albeit indirectly,” said political observer Vidyarthi Kumar. “President Trump in February 2020 said Modi had assured him that he would talk to all stakeholders and Muslims and do the right thing about the controversial citizenship law. But perhaps it was not expected from a Democrat-regime under Joe Biden.”

Both Muslim and Christian leaders have complained that discrimination and violence against them have increased since Modi came to power in 2014.

Various US-based think tanks and NGOs have slammed the Modi government. However, others see some consolation in Blinken’s statement when he said that in democracies some challenges could be “painful and ugly.”

If this was a veiled attack on the Modi regime in reference to violence against Muslims and Christians over issues like eating beef, Blinken himself diluted things.

“The search is for a more perfect union which means we are not perfect,” said the US secretary of state in reference to all democracies.

Earlier in the day, addressing members of civil society organizations, Blinken said: “At a time of rising global threats to democracy and international freedoms — we talk about a democratic recession — it’s vital that we two world leading democracies continue to stand together in support of these ideals.

“In short, if we want to make our democracies more open, more inclusive, more resilient, more equitable, we need a vibrant civil society,” he said, underlining some Platonic ideals and even wishful thinking.

“Blinken was truthful by half. That’s always the American problem,” said Congress leader Ilyas Qureshi. “We Muslims and liberals were hopeful that once the Joe Biden-Kamala Harris duo came to power, the wrong policies on Muslims would end in the US and also in India. But Blinken has spoiled that or he has proved all of us wrong.” 

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official editorial position of UCA News.

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The Union of Catholic Asian News (UCA News, UCAN) is the leading independent Catholic news source in Asia. A network of journalists and editors that spans East, South and Southeast Asia, UCA News has for four decades aimed to provide the most accurate and up-to-date news, feature, commentary and analysis, and multimedia content on social, political and religious developments that relate or are of interest to the Catholic Church in Asia.

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