Washington, DC – On December 18, 2019 the US Secretary of State, Michael R. Pompeo along with the US Secretary of Defense Mark T. Esper welcomed visiting Indian Minister of External Affairs Subrahmanyam Jaishankar and Indian Minister of Defense Rajnath Singh at a press conference in the Ben Franklin room at the Foggy Bottom Headquarters of the State Department in Washington DC.
With large protests going on in India against the newly adopted changes to the citizenship laws and allied subjects, the diplomatic acumen-ship of political leaders can at best be termed par excellence.
While US journalists did try to ask about the student protests and other unrest plaguing Indian society today, Pompeo said, “We honor Indian democracy as they have a robust debate inside of India on the issue that you raised, and the United States will be consistent in the way that we respond to these issues, not only in India but all across the world.”
With that Pompeo threw the ball in his Indian counterpart’s court while he never really addressed the issue of religious freedom which his department has been championing in recent months.
Former top Indian diplomat and now Minister Jaishankar diverted the answer to the discussion on the subject back home, telling journalists: “If you had followed the debate on that particular legislation carefully, you would see that it is a measure which is designed to address the needs of persecuted religious minorities from certain countries.”
While the Japanese Prime Minister decided to postpone his visit to India and Bangladesh leader cited an excuse for not coming, the US welcomed the Indian duo of top ministers with open arms, thus leaving one wondering about the reasons behind it.
The questions raised by Indian media outlets were surprisingly interesting as those talked of NATO expansion to include India and defense trade ties. There was no mention of protests going on, with India clamping down on religious freedom and jamming Internet in different parts of the country, including for months in the turbulent Jammu and Kashmir region.
Ironically, the US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) expressed deep concerns over the passage of the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill (CAB), originally introduced by Home Minister Amit Shah.
The USCIRF wrote: “The CAB enshrines a pathway to citizenship for immigrants that specifically excludes Muslims, setting a legal criterion for citizenship based on religion. The CAB is a dangerous turn in the wrong direction; it runs counter to India’s rich history of secular pluralism and the Indian Constitution, which guarantees equality before the law regardless of faith. In conjunction with the ongoing National Register of Citizens (NRC) process in Assam and nationwide NRC that the Home Minister seeks to propose, USCIRF fears that the Indian government is creating a religious test for Indian citizenship that would strip citizenship from millions of Muslims.”
It is said that “Universities are the barometers of a nation,” and today India is burning as students are protesting on the streets across the world’s largest democracy.