Discussions on human rights will be on the agenda when a high-powered delegation of U.S. members of Congress visits Delhi next week, indicated a group of India-focused civil rights groups that met with U.S. congressman Ro Khanna, who is leading the delegation.
Mr. Khanna, who met with representatives of a “coalition of Indian-American organisations” including Hindus for Human Rights, the Indian-American Muslim Council, and India Civil Watch International in Washington, reportedly “expressed his desire to protect minority rights in India”. Earlier this year, Mr. Khanna had faced a controversy over his criticism of the expulsion of Congress MP Rahul Gandhi as Lok Sabha member.
This week, Mr. Khanna announced that he would lead a bipartisan congressional delegation to India that had been invited to attend Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s annual Independence Day speech at the Red Fort on August 15. During the visit, the delegation will meet PM Modi, External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar and other Ministers. Mr. Khanna, who is seen as a leading “progressive Democrat”, was earlier a member of the Congressional Pakistan Caucus in 2019, and is now the first Indian-American to co-chair the U.S. Congressional Caucus on India and Indian Americans, along with Republican Congressman Michael Waltz.
“For Ro [Khanna], it is also a personally meaningful time to visit because his grandfather spent his life fighting for [India’s Independence]”, the Congressman’s spokesperson told The Hindu adding that he would engage on issues including “decarbonization, digitalization, economic partnership, defense ties, pluralism, and human rights” during the “historical” trip that would “celebrate the link between America and India’s Independence and continue to deepen the partnership”. The delegation’s visit comes two months after PM Modi’s state visit to the U.S. and a month before U.S. President Biden will visit India for the first time in his tenure, to attend the G20 summit.
According to the coalition of groups that met him, Mr. Khanna listened to testimonies from a number of civil society activists, many of whom had participated in protests during PM Modi’s visit to New York and Washington in June, and particularly raised “concerns” over democratic freedoms, the treatment of minorities, and caste discrimination in India
“Congressman Ro Khanna expressed his unwavering commitment to upholding democratic values and human rights both within India and the United States. He fully recognized the concerns articulated by the coalition and wholeheartedly endorsed the imperative of fostering a pluralistic and democratic India,” a statement issued by the coalition said, adding that Mr. Khanna had also committed to speaking to the groups after he returned from his India visit.
Significantly, Mr. Khanna, who has been a proponent of India-U.S. defence ties, and moved an amendment last year to offer India a waiver on sanctions for its purchase of the S-400 systems from Russia, also told the groups he planned to co-sponsor a new Bill in U.S. Congress called the “Safeguard Act”, that will prevent arms sales to any country that violates human rights.
In the run-up to the visit, Mr. Khanna has highlighted the symbolism of attending Independence Day celebrations given that his grandfather Amarnath Vidyalankar was a freedom fighter, was imprisoned along with Mahatma Gandhi and later became a member of the Lok Sabha with the Congress party. He also held a virtual call with Mahatma Gandhi’s grandson Rajmohan Gandhi, who knew Mr. Vidyalankar, on Tuesday.
“We discussed his memories of [Mahatma] Gandhi, affirming equality over supremacy & the principle that the world is a family as I get set to lead a historic delegation to India,” Mr. Khanna, who will also visit Rajghat during his India visit, said in a post on social media.
Earlier this year Mr. Khanna had defended his grandfather after several supporters of the Modi government lashed out at him for his statement calling the expulsion of Congress party MP Rahul Gandhi after he was convicted in a defamation case a “deep betrayal of Gandhian philosophy”. He had also urged PM Modi to reverse the move for the “sake of Indian democracy”. He also said he was “saddened” when several social media figures, including film director Vivek Agnihotri, had accused Mr. Vidyalankar of supporting the 1975 Emergency in India and other “fascist decisions” by the Congress party. After a Supreme Court stay last week, Mr. Gandhi was reinstated as an MP by the Lok Sabha Secretariat on Monday.