Amid signs of a thaw in US relations with BJP’s prime ministerial aspirant Narendra Modi, a hearing of the US Congressional panel on human rights reveals that a relook may not be as simple as it may sound.
Earlier this month, the US Commission on International Religious Freedom discussing implications of results of Indian elections on minority rights reiterated concerns about impact of a Modi-led government on minorities because of “BJP’s and Narendra Modi’s close association with Hindu nationalist organisations”.
USCIRF was among organisations that recommended the US State department to deny visa to Modi. Its commissioners were denied visa to travel to India in 2009 and have not since received a positive response to endeavours to visit India, USCIRF vice chair Dr Katrina Lantos Swett told the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission.
The testimony weeks ahead of USCIRF’s annual report and hearing with special emphasis on likely outcome of Indian elections could mean a US relook on Modi would not be easy.
“USCIRF will be monitoring the situation (related to Parliamentary elections). Many religious minority communities have reported to USCIRF that they fear a Bharatiya Janata Party win, and the election of Narendra Modi as prime minister will be detrimental to religious freedom. The BJP led the national government between 1998 and 2004. Between 2002 and 2004, USCIRF recommended India to be designated a ‘Country of Particular Concern’ for the government’s systematic, ongoing and egregious violations of religious freedom.
USCIRF has long been concerned about BJP’s and Modi’s association with Hindu nationalist organisations,” Swett told HRC. She said Sangh Parivar organisations like Vishwa Hindu Parishad, Bajrang Dal and Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh aggressively press for policies to promote an “ideology of Hindutva, which holds non-Hindus as foreign to India.”
USCIRF identifies anti-conversion laws in Chhattisgarh, Himachal Pradesh, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Arunachal Pradesh, Rajasthan and Orissa as “deeply problematic”, “one-sided” as they prevent conversion from Hinduism but not to Hinduism. \
UN special rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief, Heiner Bielefeldt, in March had criticised Gujarat’s anti-conversion law as that allows three years’ imprisonment on such loosely defined terms that it “doesn’t do justice even to the rule of law”. USCIRF recommended the US state department to integrate concern for religious freedom with bilateral relations with India and press the Indian government to make states repeal or amend anti-conversion laws.