Former United States President Barack Obama, on Friday, 22 June, said President Joe Biden should raise issues of “protection of Muslim minorities in a majority Hindu India” during his interactions with Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
The statement came at a time when PM Modi is on a 3-day State visit to the United States which has seen him engage with President Biden, lead a Yoga event at the United Nations HQ address the US Congress, take part in a State dinner and engage with top business leaders, personalities and members of the Indian diaspora.
During an interview with CNN's Christiane Amanpour, Obama further added:
“If I had a conversation with Mr Modi – who I know well – part of my argument would be that if you do not protect the rights of ethnic minorities in India, then there is a strong possibility India at some point starts pulling apart. And we’ve seen what happens when you start getting those kinds of large internal conflicts.”
The former President said that the matter was "complicated" and added that a US President "has a lot of equities."
Remembering his tenure as president, from 2009 to 2017, Obama said that he would deal with figures, who would be allies in some cases, and would try to "press me in private, do they run their governments and their political parties in ways that I would say are ideally democratic? I’d have to say no.”
Obama hosted PM Modi once in September 2014 and twice in 2016, Meanwhile, Modi hosted him in Delhi in January 2015 as the “Chief Guest” at the Republic Day celebrations.
The remarks were delivered in response to Amanpour’s question on President Biden’s policy to defend of democracy across the world.
Hours after Obama's comments, when questioned regarding claims of targeting minorities and human rights violations in India, at joint press conference with Biden, PM Modi said, "We have proved democracy can deliver. If there are no human values, no human rights, no humanity, it's not a democracy.
President Biden was also asked about criticism against PM Modi's Bharatiya Janata Party government overlooking human rights violations in India, some of which originated from within the democratic party, including the targeting of religious minorities and clamp down on dissent.
Biden said that he and PM Modi held "a good discussion about democratic values."
"That’s the nature of our relationship, we’re straight forward with each other and we respect each other," he added.
However, while Modi addressed claims of discrimination, he brushed over a question about silencing of critics in India.
Lawmakers' Letter to Biden
Dozens of US lawmakers had written to President Joe Biden and urged to raise human rights issues with Modi.
The letter, signed by Senator Chris Van Hollen, Representative Pramila Jayapal and signed by at least 60 other members of Congress, said:
"We do not endorse any particulr 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."
Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders hit out at the visit and said, "PM Modi's government has cracked down on the press and civil society, jailed political opponents, and pushed an aggressive Hindu nationalism that leaves little space for India's religious minorities."
"President Biden should raise these facts in his meeting with Modi," Sanders added.