In a strong statement on Saturday that could spiral into a diplomatic spat, the ruling BJP accused the U.S. State Department of a “clear bias” against the government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the party in an annual report on international religious freedom released on Friday.
The ‘2018 Report on International Religious Freedom’ had criticised BJP office-bearers for hate speech and the government for reportedly protecting cow vigilante groups.
“The basic presumption in this report that there is some grand design behind anti-minority violence is simply false,” BJP National Media head Anil Baluni said in the statement. “On the contrary, in most of such cases, these instances are carried out as a result of local disputes and by criminal mindsets. Whenever needed, Mr. Modi and other BJP leaders have deplored violence against minorities and weaker sections,” he added.
Significantly the report, which documents the situation in every country (except the United States), was released by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who will arrive in Delhi on June 25 for talks with External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar. The visit is expected to prepare the ground for a proposed meeting between President Donald Trump and Mr. Modi on the sidelines of the G-20 summit in Osaka on June 27 and 28.
When asked, the Ministry of External Affairs didn’t comment on the report, nor did it respond to a question whether India would raise objections to the report during Mr. Pompeo’s visit.
The 2018 report had listed 18 attacks against “Non-Hindu and Dalit” victims, in which 8 people were killed in violence linked to cow protection. In addition, the report quoted various Christian NGOs that had documented 300-500 cases of alleged violence against Christian priests and churches nationwide.
“Mob attacks by violent extremist Hindu groups against minority communities, especially Muslims, continued throughout the year amid rumors that victims had traded or killed cows for beef. According to some NGOs, authorities often protected perpetrators from prosecution,” the report said, adding that a “crackdown” on one Christian group in Jharkhand was part of “a ploy to discredit the organisation as part of the State government’s anti-Christian agenda.”
The report said, “Senior officials of the Hindu-majority Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) made inflammatory speeches against minority communities,” but did not name any leaders.
On June 13, in a testimony before the U.S. Congress, State Department official Alice Wells said the U.S. wanted the Indian leadership to “swiftly condemn acts of violence on the basis of religion and hold perpetrators accountable.”
In the past, the government has rejected similar reports issued by the U.S. government as well as the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, which placed India on its Tier 2 list of countries of concern in April 2019.
In 2005, the U.S. revoked Mr. Modi’s visa (he was then Gujarat Chief Minister) under its religious freedom law, the only time the U.S. has invoked it. India had protested against the decision at the time.
( With inputs from Nistula Hebbar )