Washington: Former Indian Vice President Hamid Ansari and four senior US lawmakers criticised India’s recent record on protecting human rights, civil liberties and religious freedom, and warned that the country is steering away from its constitutional values.
At a virtual event held in Washington DC on Wednesday, to coincide with Republic Day, on the theme of ‘Protecting India’s Pluralist Constitution’, a senator, (US), three US Congressmen, the chair of the US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), and India’s former vice-president Mohammad Hamid Ansari spoke on what they termed as the rise in hate speech against religious minorities, the ‘misuse’ of the Unlawful (Activities) Prevention Act, and the detention of a Kashmiri activist, Khurram Parvez. The event was organised by a group of 17 US organisations – including the Indian-American Muslim Council (IAMC), a group that the Tripura government, in an affidavit in the Supreme Court about recent communal violence in the state, has accused of having links with Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) and other extremist outfits.
Participating in the panel discussion from India, former vice president Ansari expressed his concern over the rising trend of Hindu nationalism. Markey, a senator from Massachusetts, and a member of the House of Representatives from 1976 to 2013, expressed concern at what he called the Modi government’s attempts to ‘peel back rights of religious minorities in India’. ‘Laws on religious conversion, citizenship and other restrictive measures fly in the face of India’s inclusive, secular constitution and core tenets of any democracy’ Markey said. Congressman Jim McGovern, a member of the Democratic progressive caucus in the House and the co-chair of the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission, a bipartisan caucus of the House, said that there were ‘worrying signs’ that India was witnessing an erosion of secularism, and with it, democracy.
The government of India has consistently rejected criticism about its democratic record, defended both its legislative processes and laws, cited the conduct of regular free and fair elections, and pointed to constitutional institutions and protections as evidence of its commitment to democratic principles and values. The IAMC has firmly rejected the charge and calls itself an American civil rights organisation. All the four senior US political figures – Senator Ed Markey and Congressmen Andy Levin, Jamie Raskin, and Jim McGovern – are Democrats, and have, in the past too, raised concerns about India’s democratic record.
Meanwhile, the external affairs ministry reacted strongly to comments on Friday, saying that India is a robust and vibrant democracy and does not require certification from others and attacked them for their ‘biases and political interests’. ‘The track record of the event organisers is as well known as the biases and political interests of the participants’, MEA spokesperson Arindam Bagchi said while responding to queries regarding the comments made by Ansari and others during the virtual panel discussion. Hitting out at Ansari for his remarks, the BJP alleged that the ‘madness of bashing Prime Minister Narendra Modi has turned into a conspiracy for India bashing’. Law Minister Kiren Rijiju also hit out at the former vice-president, saying what he has said is ‘wrong’ and as a member of the minority community, he can proudly say that India is the safest nation.