Modi should ensure religious freedoms: U.S. lawmaker

U.S. lawmaker raises concern over Adityanath’s speeches

May 11, 2017 10:51 pm | Updated 10:51 pm IST - NEW DELHI

New Delhi, 11/05/2017:  US Congresswomen Pramila Jayapal during a Interview with The Hindu in New Delhi on May 11, 2017. Photo: Suhasini Haider

New Delhi, 11/05/2017: US Congresswomen Pramila Jayapal during a Interview with The Hindu in New Delhi on May 11, 2017. Photo: Suhasini Haider

Expressing concerns about “incendiary” speeches made by Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath, a senior American legislator of India origin said Prime Minister Narendra Modi must “use his position” to ensure “religious freedoms” in India.

In an exclusive interview to The Hindu , U.S. Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal, who was part of a visiting Congressional delegation, spoke of increasing concerns over “rhetoric” in India, but also over hate-speech in the U.S., where immigrants have faced a series of attacks.

“Just as we are critical of our government for attempts to suppress religious freedom, we want to make sure that there is religious freedom around the world,” Ms. Jayapal said, accusing Mr. Adityanath of using “rhetoric around [minorities], calling for [minorities] to be killed; a number of places where he has been incendiary... we do think that is counter to everything Prime Minister Modi has said.”

According to Ms. Jayapal, the concerns had been shared by her Indian-American constituents, and other delegation members.

When asked if her comments and those of the delegation amounted to interference in India’s internal democratic processes, Ms. Jayapal said, “It would be an over-step if we said, ‘don’t appoint this person’. That’s not what we are saying. What we intend to say is that [PM Modi] has tremendous power as leader of India and he should use that power to stand up for everybody to practice their religion.”

Ms. Jayapal was part of an eight-member bipartisan delegation of American lawmakers led by House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi. The group included the Co-Chair of the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission that releases an annual review of countries. The Congressmen met with Finance and Defence Minister Arun Jaitley and Foreign Secretary S. Jaishankar on Wednesday, and with Mr Modi on Thursday, for discussions on areas of “security, economics and values” where both countries shared concerns.

Hails stand on Tibet

“The Prime Minister exchanged views with the delegation members on the bilateral partnership and other issues of mutual interest,” a release from the PMO said after the meeting.

In its statement, Ms. Pelosi’s office said the delegation had “exchanged views on our security cooperation and the terrorist threat, India’s leadership addressing the climate crisis, and our mutual priority of respecting the human rights of all people in our countries.”

Ms. Jayapal said the delegation, that had earlier met with the Dalai Lama and members of the Tibetan ‘government-in-exile’, was very appreciative of India’s continued hospitality to the Tibetan spiritual leader and accused China of “exerting pressure” on countries including the U.S., and Nepal against him.

“I’m proud of my birth country India for its support to them, and for making it clear that no economic considerations will be allowed to overshadow this issue,” Chennai-born Congresswoman Jayapal said, referring to the Chinese government’s protest over the delegation’s visit to Dharamshala on Wednesday.

Ms. Jayapal, who immigrated to the U.S. and took on citizenship several years later, is a former human rights activist who has worked on immigration reform as well as countering anti-immigrant sentiments in the U.S.

Attacks on migrants

Expressing “deep concern” over attacks on Indian-Americans in the U.S. in the past few months, which India has raised with the Trump administration, Ms. Jayapal said these incidents were not “isolated,” although America had faced similar incidents in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks.

“The difference is now we have this [rhetoric] coming from an official capacity, from inside the White House,” she said, also asking President Trump to speak out on the issue.

The MEA did not respond to the Congresswoman’s remarks, when contacted by The Hindu .

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