New Delhi, Jun 27: After a day-long diplomatic engagement with Indian leaders and displaying bonhomie between the US and India, the visiting Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Wednesday made remarks that could trigger row as he sought to remind Indian leaders that whenever the rights of religious minorities are 'compromised' the world is "worse off".
"India is the birthplace of four major world religions. Let's stand up together and defend religious freedom for all. Let's speak up strongly together in favour of those rights," Mr Pompeo said at his 'India policy' speech at the India International Centre here. "For whenever we do compromise those rights, the world is worse off," he said.
It may be mentioned that the comment from the US Secretary of State comes close on the heels of a US State Department report on the matter that was critical of Indian government.India has denied claims made in a U.S. religious freedom report that Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government has failed to contain violence targeting non-Hindus. The annual International Religious Freedom Report released by US government on June 21 said that religious freedom conditions in India continued a downward trend in 2018.
“Exclusionary extremist narratives” increased in recent years “including, at times, the government’s allowance and encouragement of mob violence against religious minorities that have facilitated an egregious and ongoing campaign of violence, intimidation and harassment against non-Hindu and lower-caste Hindu minorities,” the report had said. Much to the chagrin of the pro-Hindutva BJP leadership and Modi-led dispensation, the '2018 International Religious Freedom Report' of the US government says as many as ten Indian provinces or states have the risk factors for religious minorities.
Raveesh Kumar, spokesman of the External Affairs Ministry, rejected the report’s findings."We see no locus standi for a foreign entity or government to pronounce on the state of our citizens’ constitutionally protected rights," Mr Kumar has said on June 23. "India is proud of its secular credentials, its status as the largest democracy and a pluralistic society with a longstanding commitment to tolerance and inclusion," he has said.
BJP's media in charge and Rajya Sabha MP Anil Baluni too has been critical of the US report, which ironically was released by Mr Pompeo himself. On the eve of Mr Pompeo's visit as journalists raised the matter with an Indian official on Tuesday, it was told rather clearly that "every time you (media) ask for our comments, we (officials) will say the US do not have locus standi" to speak on internal matters in India.
In his speech, Mr Pompeo also said that his interaction with External Affairs Minster Dr S Jaishankar is "step forward" in diplomacy and he would like to continue the conversation that "we had today". Speaking to reporters after the meeting, Secretary of State has said earlier in the day both the US and India are "friends who can help each other". (UNI)