Washington: U.S. president Donald Trump will raise the issue of religious freedom with prime minister Narendra Modi during his visit to India that is starting on February 24, the White House said on Friday.
This is not very good news for India because there have been several instances of BJP ministers such as Giriraj Kishore speaking out on why Muslims should not have stayed on in India after 1947, and several cases of sedition cases being filed against Muslim or Christian protesters in some states, especially Karnataka in recent weeks.
As usual, this advance intimation of U.S. intent came in an official briefing by the Trump administration to reporters in Washington with no words minced. As the briefing official said, religious freedom is especially important to this regime in Washington.
The timing and nature of the White House is particularly interesting. This pointed mention of the state of religious freedom in India comes a couple of weeks after Secretary of State Mike Pompeo inaugurated a US-led initiative on international religious freedom, and US administration officials indicated that events in India were definite on that radar.
"President Trump will talk about our shared tradition of democracy and religious freedom both in his public remarks and then certainly in private. He will raise these issues, particularly the religious freedom issue, which is extremely important to this administration," a senior official told reporters in a conference call.
The official was responding to a question on whether the president was planning to speak to Narendra Modi on the Citizenship (Amendment) Act or the National Register of Citizens.
"We do have this shared commitment to upholding our universal values, the rule of law. We have great respect for India's democratic traditions and institutions, and we will continue to encourage India to uphold those traditions," the official said, requesting anonymity.
"And we are concerned with some of the issues that you have raised," the senior administration official said, in response to the question on CAA and NRC.
"I think the president will talk about these issues in his meetings with prime minister Modi and note that the world is looking to India to continue to uphold its democratic traditions, respect for religious minorities," the official said.
"Of course, it's in the Indian Constitution -- religious freedom, respect for religious minorities, and equal treatment of all religions. So this is something that is important to the president and I'm sure it will come up," said the official.
Pointing out that India has a strong democratic foundation, the official said India is a country rich in religious, linguistic, and cultural diversity.
"In fact, it's the birthplace of four major world religions," the official noted.
"Prime Minister Modi, in his first speech after winning the election last year, talked about how he would prioritise being inclusive of India's religious minorities. And, certainly, the world looks to India to maintain religious liberty and equal treatment for all under the rule of law," said the senior administration official.
Ahead of Trump visit to India, while the Modi regime has been eager to showcase the optics side of the event, such as the Namaste Trump rally at the Motera stadium in Ahmedabad, the signals from Washington have been more in the nature of state craft.
Trump has played hot and cold on whether he will go in for a trade deal with India during this visit or keep it for later. At any rate, he has made it clear that he intends to get India to scale back its "extremely high" tariffs on some American products.
The pointed reference to religious freedom in India could well be a tactic of leverage ahead of the talk Trump will have with Modi next week.