In spite of opposition from American lawmakers and human rights advocates, President Joe Biden declared on Thursday that the United States and India have never had a stronger relationship and announced new business deals with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
In a joint press conference with Modi, Biden referred to the U.S.-Indian relationship as “more dynamic than at any time in history” and said it was among the most important in the world. He emphasised how the two most potent democracies in the world were working together on matters like the environment, healthcare, and space, noting that the U.S.-India economic partnership was “booming.”
But when a reporter questioned Modi about his nation’s adherence to democratic principles in light of the deterioration of press, political, and religious freedoms under his leadership, he reacted angrily.
Modi, who seldom answers questions from media, remarked through an interpreter, “Democracy is our spirit.” “Democracy is ingrained in our DNA. We practise democracy now, yet our forefathers truly defined the idea. Without regard to class, creed, religion, or gender, he claimed, India had “proven that democracies can deliver.”
Modi has nevertheless come under fire for legislation amending the nation’s citizenship law that expedites naturalisation for some immigrants but bars Muslims, a rise in violence by Hindu nationalists against Muslims and other religious minorities, and Rahul Gandhi’s recent conviction for making fun of Modi’s surname.
Nevertheless, Modi stressed that in India “diversity is a natural way of life” in a 59-minute speech he gave before a joint gathering of Congress. Modi concluded by saying, “We are home to all faiths in the world, and we celebrate all of them,” which caused many applauding parliamentarians to stand up. The prime minister’s explanation contradicts claims made by rights organisations that violence and discrimination against Muslims and other minorities in India were rampant under Modi.
In a letter to Biden this week, more than 70 senators urged him to express his worries about the deterioration of political, press, and religious freedoms when he was in the country. Because of their reservations about Modi’s human rights records, at least six Democratic members of Congress—Democratic Reps. Cori Bush of Missouri, Rashida Tlaib of Michigan, Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, Greg Casar of Texas, Jamaal Bowman, and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York—banned him from speaking to Congress.
In a joint statement, Bush, Tlaib, Omar, and Bowman asserted that “actions speak louder than words” when it comes to defending human rights. “Congress undermines its ability to be a credible advocate for the rights of religious minorities and journalists around the world by bestowing Prime Minister Modi with the rare honour of a joint address.”
Standing next to Modi, Biden emphasised the importance of press freedom, freedom of religion, and other fundamental liberties for the proper functioning of both democracies. When questioned about his own stance on human rights, Modi responded, “There’s absolutely no space for discrimination,” according to Biden, who claimed that he and Modi had a “good discussion about democratic values” during their meeting in the Oval Office.
The state visit, the third of Vice President Biden’s reign, was unquestionably a lavish event.