A half-dozen liberal House Democrats are boycotting Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s speech to Congress on Thursday afternoon, in protest of what they criticize as his abysmal human rights record, particularly toward Muslim minority groups in India.
Four of the protesting members released a statement Thursday condemning the address as “an embarrassing spectacle,” arguing that by giving Mr. Modi such a rare platform, “Congress undermines its ability to be a credible advocate for the rights of religious minorities and journalists around the world.”
“We must never sacrifice human rights at the altar of political expediency,” Representatives Rashida Tlaib of Michigan, Cori Bush of Missouri, Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, and Jamaal Bowman of New York wrote in the joint statement. They called on other members of Congress to join their protest and “stand in solidarity with the communities that have been harmed by Modi and his policies.”
But while other lawmakers have acknowledged and even criticized Mr. Modi for promoting antidemocratic and Hindu nationalist policies, and criticized him for failing to condemn violent assaults against minority groups, they have recoiled at the idea of boycotting a visit from such an economically and strategically important U.S. ally.
“We need to engage,” said Representative Ro Khanna, Democrat of California, a member of Indian descent who co-chairs the Congressional Caucus on India, arguing that India’s government leaders are “not going to be open and receptive to something that comes off as the West lecturing.”
“I think they’d be much more open to a dialogue as equals about the project of multiracial democracy,” he said.
The Biden administration has been pursuing closer ties with India, particularly as the United States’ standoffs with Russia and China intensify. India’s large economy and population make it an enticing partner for the United States, particularly as Washington tries to reduce its economic reliance on Beijing, and there is a concerted effort to woo New Delhi away from Russia, from which it continues to purchase weapons and oil, in order to help undermine Moscow’s ongoing invasion of Ukraine.
But the protesting lawmakers objected viscerally to the geopolitical justifications for Mr. Modi’s address. Pointing out that Mr. Modi once failed to get a U.S. visa because of his participation in deadly religious riots, they argued he should not be rewarded years later with a diplomatic red carpet.
“A joint address is among the most prestigious invitations and honors the United States Congress can extend,” Representative Alexandria Ocasio Cortez, Democrat of New York, who is also boycotting Mr. Modi’s speech, wrote in a statement that she tweeted out Wednesday evening. “We should not do so for individuals with deeply troubling human rights records — particularly for individuals whom our own State Department has concluded engaged in systematic human rights abuses of religious minorities and caste-oppressed communities.”