The US state department on Friday said secretary of state Antony Blinken would raise issues related to “human rights and democracy” with India during his visit to New Delhi next week.
Blinken leaves for a two-nation tour of India and Kuwait on Monday and is expected in Delhi on Tuesday. He will be the second high-ranking official of the Joe Biden administration to visit India since the change of guard in Washington in January.
In a pre-departure briefing, acting assistant secretary for South and Central Asian affairs in the state department, Dean Thompson, was asked specifically what the conversation might be on human rights since he had not mentioned it in his opening remarks.
The questioner also flagged the “free pass” the Narendra Modi government had got “on a lot of the anti-Muslim legislation and actions they took”, articulating a view in certain quarters of Washington that the US was going soft on India because of other geo-strategic considerations.
Thomson replied: “With respect to the human rights and democracy question, yes, you’re right; I will tell you that we will raise it, and we will continue that conversation, because we firmly believe that we have more values in common on those fronts than we don’t. And we believe India is going to be a really important part of continuing those conversations and building strong efforts on those fronts in partnership as we go forward.”
Washington is to host a 2+2 ministerial dialogue with India later this year with the foreign and defence ministers of both countries in attendance.
Last week at the International Religious Freedom Summit hosted in Washington, several US legislators had underscored the need for the Biden administration to do more to ensure that India abided by the foundational principles articulated in its Constitution.
Thomson also made it clear that the “cosy relationship” the Modi government had with the Donald Trump administration did not have a bearing on bilateral ties. “The relationship with India is a strong one that has endured through administrations of all colours and stripes in the United States, and will continue to do so.”
About Blinken’s agenda, Thomson said the two sides would discuss efforts to support just and durable peace in Afghanistan, developments in the Indo-Pacific region including the Quad vaccine partnership announced at the first summit of the grouping in March and climate change.
About the Quad vaccine programme, Thompson acknowledged that the challenges India faced recently in Covid management had “created a bit of a delay in getting certain aspects of it started”, but added that the working groups had been meeting.
“The plan had always been for a billion doses to roll out in 2022, and so we hope to continue to work towards that goal.”
The initiative involves a jab developed in the US being manufactured in India with financial support from Washington and Japan, and Australia providing the logistics for delivery.