Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Thursday repeatedly denied that there was any discrimination in India when asked about the criticism that his government had discriminated against minorities and sought to silence critics.
Having categorically denied that there is any discrimination in India, the Prime Minister did not respond to the second part of the question on what steps the government was willing to take to improve the rights of minorities and uphold free speech.
Indian-origin spectators gather on the South Lawn of the White House to watch Biden welcoming Modi.
Expressing surprise at the allegations of discrimination, Modi quoted US President Joe Biden to say that democracy is in the DNA of India and America. “Democracy is our spirit, democracy runs in our veins. We live democracy… our ancestors have actually put words to this concept and that is in the form of our Constitution…. The entire country runs on that…. We have always proved that democracy can deliver regardless of caste, creed, religion, gender… there is absolutely no space for discrimination….
“That is why India believes in moving ahead with everybody we trust and with everybody’s efforts... these are our foundational principles…. In India the benefits provided by the government is accessible to all… there is absolutely no discrimination in India on basis of caste, creed, age or any kind of geographic location.”
The Prime Minister was asked the question during the press interaction at the White House where Washington had insisted on both him and Biden fielding one question each from the Indian and American media.
This was a break from the usual practice through the Modi years where the Indian side has refused to allow any media to ask the Prime Minister questions during such interactions. Barring two occasions in the past nine years, the Prime Minister and his counterparts would only make brief press statements.
Having rolled out the red carpet for the Prime Minister, Biden was measured in his response to a question on the criticism from within his own party that his administration was overlooking the targeting of religious minorities and crackdown on dissent in India.
“Prime Minister and I had a good discussion on democratic values. That’s the nature of our relationship — we respect each other, we are straightforward with each other…. There is an overwhelming respect for each other because we are both democracies…. It is in America’s DNA, and I believe, in India’s DNA that the whole world has a stake in both of us maintaining our democracies," Biden said.
Biden has been facing criticism for turning a blind eye to the democratic backsliding in India, preferring to build on the bilateral relationship as a bulwark against China and to wean India away from Russia.
During the deliberations earlier in the day, the two sides also decided to open more consulates — the US in Ahmedabad and Banglore, and India in Seattle.