US President Barack Obama and Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Tuesday held wide-ranging discussions, as the White House welcomed the Indian leader, once shunned in the West for his Gujarat state government’s violation of religious freedom and disregard for brutal killing of the Muslim minority.
While Obama hosted Modi for dinner Monday, Kashmiri and Sikh protesters staged charged demonstrations against what they termed as Indian state terror and Modi’s record of discrimination and violence against minorities.
In advance of their Tuesday’s meeting, the two leaders wrote a joint editorial in The Washington Post that the US-India “natural partnership” between the two democracies that share many values, has the potential to shape world peace for years to come.
Washington views economic investment, regional security, counterterrorism, and climate change as major areas of bilateral cooperation, while large geo-strategic calculations vis-à-vis China and serious issues surrounding Indian treatment of Sikh and Muslim minorities and Modi and his party BJP’s dark past remain unspoken.
Experts and demonstrators, however, reminded the world of the serious human rights issues dogging Modi and India at a time of deep-running unrest in the South Asia and the Middle East.
“But the specter of what many think will be left unspoken — human rights and civil society issues — hangs over the visit,” a separate report in The Washington Post said.
In their opinion piece, Obama and Modi said the US-India partnership is robust, reliable and enduring, and it is expanding. Our relationship involves more bilateral collaboration than ever before — not just at the federal level but also at the state and local levels, between our two militaries, private sectors and civil society,” the Obama and Modi noted in the opinion piece.
“Still, the true potential of our relationship has yet to be fully realized. The advent of a new government in India is a natural opportunity to broaden and deepen our relationship.
In the regional perspective, Obama and Modi said the region and the world benefit from the greater stability and security that the US-India friendship creates. “We remain committed to the larger effort to integrate South Asia and connect it with markets and people in Central and Southeast Asia.”
The American and Indian leaders said “exploration of space will continue to fire our imaginations and challenge us to raise our ambitions. That we both have satellites orbiting Mars tells its own story. The promise of a better tomorrow is not solely for Indians and Americans: It also beckons us to move forward together for a better world. This is the central premise of our defining partnership for the 21st century. Forward together we go — chalein saath saath.”
But the media did not miss some of the underlying considerations and issues in U.S.-India relations.
According to the Post, the invigorated US-India embrace is part of an American effort to hedge against the broadening economic and military clout of China, whose President Xi Jinping recently met with Modi in New Delhi.
On the eve of his visit to Washington, Modi told a gathering at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York the world’s second-most-populous country, would challenge China for primacy this century.
“Whether it belongs to India or China is something people are debating,” Modi said.
The Sikh and Kashmiri-American crowds outside the White House reminded the world of Modi and his party BJP’’s violence-ridden past and victimization of minorities.
The killing of 2002 Muslims and international outcry over unchecked violence in Gujarat, when Modi was chief minister of the state, prompted the US to cancel the Indian leader’s visa in 2005 on grounds that he had violated religious freedom “by not doing enough to stop Hindu-Muslim riots”.
Last week, a federal court In New York issued Modi a summons as it asked him to respond to a lawsuit accusing him of human rights abuses but heads of state have immunity from lawsuits in American courts.