India is increasingly on the radar of the international community and not for good reasons. Criticism of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s controversial domestic agenda is growing both in the United States and Europe, be it the situation in Kashmir or the bill to grant citizenship.
The goodwill built by India over the years has eroded in western capitals despite the best diplomatic efforts.
As an astute Indian observer noted, ‘you can spin reality to an extent but not completely’. To say the anti-India narrative is explicitly based on an inherent western bias would be folly, when the ground situation is for all to judge.
It is also true that while some criticism in western quarters is genuine, some is entirely motivated and coming from pro-Pakistani groups and troublemakers. There is also an element of ‘jumping onto the bandwagon’.
Govt Trying to Make Muslims ‘Lesser’ Citizens?
On Tuesday, the US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) said that Washington should consider sanctioning Home Minister Amit Shah if the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill (CAB) passes both houses of Parliament. An Indian spokesman dismissed the whole premise of the USCIRF statement.
The thing is that, even the US Congress doesn’t take USCIRF too seriously except to pay lip service to keep the religious Right in line. A Congressional aide laughed out loud when asked to comment on the USCIRF’s demand vis-à-vis Shah.
But there’s no denying that the narrative of a democratic India preserving its diversity against heavy odds is tarnished somewhat, as perception gains that the Modi government is ‘targeting’ Muslims in different ways to make them ‘lesser’ citizens.
International Goodwill On the Decline
The government vehemently denies it’s doing any such thing, but the Citizenship Bill, tabled on Monday in the Parliament, created immediate ripples in Washington, coming as it did after the Article 370 clampdown in Kashmir, reports of detention centres for illegal migrants, and the Ayodhya verdict.
International goodwill is diminishing in direct proportion to the BJP’s delivery on its domestic agenda.
The House Foreign Affairs Committee quickly posted a comment on Twitter saying that the CAB undermines “religious pluralism” which is “one of our core shared values.” It then linked an article from The New York Times with the headline: ‘India Prepares to Block Naturalization for Muslims’.
Another Blow to India from the US
In another significant blow to India, Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal introduced a resolution on Kashmir last week, asking the Indian government to lift the remaining restrictions on communication, restore Internet access as soon as possible, release ‘arbitrarily detained people’, and allow access to international human rights observers.
The future of the resolution is still in question but the fact that Jayapal, an Indian American, led the effort, has raised the hackles of the Indian American community.
That she managed to get a junior Republican — Steve Watkins of Kansas — to co-sponsor has further raised concerns because Republicans have largely stayed away from commenting on the human rights situation in Kashmir.
A Democratic Party supporter observed acidly: “The Republicans are less inclined to say anything because it’s targeted against Muslims. The moment Modi does anything against Christians, watch how all the Evangelists will get activated.”
Whether Jayapal’s resolution will go to the floor of the House of Representatives for a vote is uncertain. If it does, it may pass because the Democrats have a majority, and the liberal wing sympathetic to the human rights cause is ascendant. It would be the first time in many years that India would be censured, even if mildly.
Lack of Cohesion Among Indian Americans
India has bolstered its lobbying efforts by appointing Cornerstone Government Affairs, a firm with strong links to the Democratic Party.
For the last two years India has relied solely on a Republican firm — BGR Group — after the Podesta Group, a prestigious firm close to the Democratic establishment, disbanded in 2017. The Cornerstone-BGR combination should help mitigate India’s troubles on Capitol Hill to some extent.
But the larger problem is that of a disorganised and disengaged Indian American community.
Apart from talking about emulating Jewish American muscle, community leaders have done little except write a few cheques to some Congressmen and senators.
Urgent Need to Rebuild, Regroup & Respond
Indian Americans may be the wealthiest ethnic minority, but they certainly aren’t the most cohesive. They have been unable to create a professionally managed and well funded national umbrella organisation to create real political influence.
In the game of gaining and ‘gaming’ political influence, Indian Americans have a long road to travel. The community has also become sharply divided — Indian Muslim Americans feel alienated as they see themselves being marginalised both in India and in the US by the majority community.
Similarly, young Sikh Americans are increasingly becoming radical and swayed by Pakistan-funded Sikh organisations. Some gurdwaras have even come under the influence of Khalistan sympathisers.
A sustained effort is needed to rebuild, regroup and respond.
(The writer is a senior Washington-based journalist. She can be reached at @seemasirohi. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)