Washington, March 19
Observing that it is for the people and the Government of India to determine the path forward on its recently enacted farm laws, two top Democratic senators have urged Secretary of State Antony Blinken to raise the issue of treatment of peaceful farmer protesters and journalists.
In a letter to Blinken, Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Menendez and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer on Thursday urged the Biden administration to further engage with Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government over its treatment of farmers in India who have been peacefully demonstrating against the passage of new farm laws.
“India is a long-term strategic partner with deep ties to the United States, thanks to our many shared values and our large and valued Indian American community. In light of these shared values and strong connections, we write with serious concern regarding the response of the Indian government to the farmer protests,” Menendez and Schumer wrote in their joint letter to Blinken.
In their letter, released to the press, the two senators urged Blinken to raise the importance of freedom of speech and the right to peaceful protest in conversations with his Indian counterparts and to ensure that State Department officials at all levels do so as well.
After becoming the Secretary of State, Blinken has spoken with External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar multiple times. The readouts of the phone calls do not indicate that Blinken raised this issue, under pressure from his party men, with Jaishankar. The Biden administration has insisted that the two countries share democratic values.
Schumer and Menendez said the months-long demonstrations have been met with orders from the central government and local authorities to shut off internet access in protest areas, cut off water and electricity supplies for the tens of thousands living in protest camps, and impede the work of journalists reporting on the protests.
“India’s people and government will determine the path forward on these laws, and peaceful dialogue and respect for the viewpoints of all peaceful actors should drive that decision. As the US pursues a more perfect union here at home, including efforts to bolster the rule of law and our democracy, those efforts reinforce the importance of addressing challenges to democracies abroad as well,” the Senators wrote.
The letter by Schumer and Menendez comes a day after the latter wrote a similar letter to Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin, who is visiting India this week.
There has been no response from either Austin or Blinken if they plan to raise these issues with their Indian counterparts, especially when the Biden administration is going out of its way in its outreach with the Modi government given the serious challenge it is facing from China. PTI