Monday, November 30, 2020

Biden speaks to Modi: Is Hindu nationalism a threat to Indian democracy?

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US President-elect Joe Biden on Wednesday held talks with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and voiced his optimism about working with the Hindu nationalist leader. Modi, a strong ally of Trump, had campaigned for Trump in two joint rallies in Texas and Gujarat. The two leaders discussed future bilateral cooperation in several fields.

According to the press releases issued to the media by Washington and Delhi after the conversation, Biden and Modi discussed global challenges like COVID-19, climate change, and economic problems. The American press release mentioned democracy as being on the agenda as well, but the Indian press release did not make mention of it.

International relations experts have questioned the reasons behind the omission, linking it to the insecurities of the Indian ruling party as it pursues a Hindu nationalist agenda at home. Biden, a long-term democrat, has voiced his disapproval of several Hindu nationalist policies, including the annexation of Kashmir and the muzzling of the media.

India enjoys support across party lines in Washington but Democratic lawmakers have increasingly voiced concern about human rights under the Hindu nationalist Modi, including his championing of a controversial citizenship law and revocation of autonomy in Muslim-majority Kashmir.

Biden said he hoped to cooperate with Modi on common challenges including the COVID pandemic, regional security, climate change and, in a delicate choice of words, on “strengthening democracy at home and abroad.” The Indian foreign ministry said Modi for his part called for cooperation on promoting access to affordable vaccines.

Biden assures support to Kashmir

Back in July, Biden campaign’s foreign policy adviser, Antony Blinken, said that the Biden administration, if elected, will raise the issue of Kashmir with India and would also convey its concerns on a recent Indian law that discriminates against Muslims. In an afternoon dialogue on American foreign policy at the Hudson Institute, Washington, Blinken also said that the Trump administration’s Iran strategy had “backfired in a massive way”.

Blinken, who is a former deputy national security adviser and deputy secretary of state, has been tasked with drafting the foreign policy of the Biden campaign. Walter Russel Mead moderated the discussion. It was Mead who raised the issue of Kashmir in the conversation, pointing out that India had some serious human rights and democracy issues, particularly with Muslims, in Kashmir and elsewhere.

“We obviously have challenges now and real concerns, for example, about some of the actions the Indian government has taken, particularly in cracking down on freedom of movement and freedom of speech in Kashmir, and about some of the laws on citizenship,” said Blinken while responding to the moderator.

“You are always better in engaging with a partner, and with a vitally important one like India, when you can speak frankly and directly about areas where you have differences, even as you are working to build a greater cooperation,” he added.

Blinken said that this would be the Biden administration’s approach while discussing Kashmir and other issues with India because “we have seen evidence that it works”. Mead noted that while India was a democracy, “it has somewhat a different view of what that might mean than we do”.

Biden speaks to Netanyahu

US President-elect Joe Biden on Tuesday held his first talks since his victory with the prime ministers of Israel, an ally of Donald Trump who has not conceded defeat.

Biden told Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who had a notoriously rocky relationship with the last Democratic president, Barack Obama, that he was determined “to ensure that the US-Israel relationship is strengthened and enjoys strong bipartisan support.”

Biden “reiterated his steadfast support for Israel’s security and its future as a Jewish and democratic state,” the president-elect’s office said in a statement. The office of Netanyahu, who had vigorously challenged the 2009-2017 Obama-Biden administration over its diplomacy with Iran and push for Palestinian rights, said he had a “warm” conversation with the president-elect.

Read more: US-India alliance will remain a strategic priority regardless of election results

Biden also spoke to President Reuven Rivlin, whose position is largely ceremonial. “I said that as an old friend of Israel he knows our friendship is based on values beyond partisan politics,” Rivlin wrote on Twitter.

Trump has refused to concede defeat two weeks after the election but the leaders of virtually all countries have congratulated Biden except Russia, Mexico, Brazil, North Korea and Slovenia.

Biden’s first calls took place with US allies who had tense ties with Trump including German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

Read more: US defence secretary in Israel talks on military advantage

GVS News Desk with additional input by AFP

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