At a time of much discussion on secularism in India and India-related forums in the United States, U.S. congressman Ami Bera said India’s identity as a secular democracy was “incredibly important”. Mr Bera’s comments take on added significance as he has repeatedly backed India-friendly legislation in the House of Representatives and is likely to lead a crucial congressional subcommittee on Asia.
“I am a strong advocate of the U.S.-India relationship and want to see India take its place at the table with the leading nations in the world,” Mr Bera, who recently co-sponsored legislation signifying the House’s support for India’s permanent membership of the United Nations Security Council said.
“With that comes responsibilities as well.”
Mr Bera’s remarks were made at an event hosted by the Atlantic Council, a think tank, to mark the 60th anniversary of former U.S. President Dwight Eisenhower’s visit to India.
“ … And it’s my hope, given the importance of our relationship, that it [India] does realize that place at the table. That’s my hope when we have that 2 x 2 dialogue next week. And India’s strength, as I’ve said in recent days and recent months, is as a secular democracy,” Mr Bera said, flagging next week’s visit to Washington by Defence Minister Rajnath Singh and External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar for the 2+2 dialogue with the U.S.
The Congressman is planning to speak on a variety of topics, including Kashmir, with different levels of the Indian government next week, a member of his office told The Hindu .
“If you look at the founding of the nation, it’s founded on values of being a secular democracy and holding on to that identity is incredibly important. And the strength of any democracy is protecting the rights of minority groups. These will be interesting conversations over the next week or so, but I think incredibly important conversations if we want to keep the partnership, the relationship, moving in the right trajectory,” Mr Bera said.
Mr Bera indicated he was likely to become the chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee’s Subcommittee on Asia, the Pacific and Nonproliferation in the U.S. House of Representatives next week. The subcommittee ruffled feathers in the Indian government and took Indian officials by surprise after it held a hearing in October that largely focused on human rights in Kashmir. The Subcommittee is currently led by Brad Sherman, who, like Mr Bera, is a California Democrat. The Hindu had reported last week that a leadership change for the subcommittee was imminent, following shifts in elected roles after the death of Congressman Elijah Cummings.
On India’s handling of criticism
On the current India-related themes in the U.S. Congress, Mr Bera said he would like to move the conversation [on India] beyond what is happening in Kashmir, to conversations on defence and trade.
“That [ Kashmir] becomes a barrier to all the other things that we could truly accomplish in a partnership,” Mr Bera said, adding that India will be criticized as it assumes a greater leadership role in the world and should not be so sensitive to it.
“This probably wouldn’t be popular in India but the United States, as the world leader in the last seventy years, we taken on a lot of criticism. We don’t react to it. We don’t take it personally. And some of that criticism is rightfully deserved,” Mr Bera said.
“But as India moves to sit at the table it is going to come under criticism . It can’t be so sensitive to external criticism. It has to allow us to raise questions, raise issues. That is what leading nations do…and if India is to take that place, it can’t have a fragile ego.”