The Cable

Indian-Born U.S. Congresswoman Asks Modi to Rein in ‘Cow Vigilantes’

The White House and State Department haven’t said anything about violence toward minorities in India, but one U.S. lawmaker did.


Since Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s BJP won big in elections in five states — including the largest, Uttar Pradesh — there have been fears of a Hindu nationalist resurgence in India. Those fears certainly haven’t been quashed with the appointment of Yogi Adityanath as chief minister of Uttar Pradesh.

Adityanath, a firebrand cleric known for animosity toward Muslims, has in the past specifically called for India to be a Hindu nation. And, since he took over as chief minister, an Indian state’s rough equivalent of governor, cow protection, including the closure of slaughterhouses across the state, has become of one of the state’s top priorities — one that has resulted in “cow vigilantes” acting violently toward non-Hindu minorities.

Modi has remained relatively silent on the issue, perhaps a signal that he considers ethnic or religious nationalism to be too useful to winning campaigns to come out and criticize. Modi was banned from traveling to the United States for almost a decade after the 2002 riots in Gujarat, where, as chief minister, he failed to stop or even sufficiently speak out against violence against Muslims. And neither the White House nor the State Department has said much on human rights in India, which was not mentioned in Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s second address to his department.

On Thursday, however, one member of the U.S. government did speak out on human rights in India.

Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wa.), who was herself born in India and this week went to the country as part of a congressional delegation, expressed concern over Adityanath’s rhetoric toward minorities.

In an interview with The Hindu, Jayapal said that, just as she has spoken out against repression in her own country, she called on Modi to “use his position” to protect minorities in India.

Asked if she was interfering in India’s domestic politics, Jayapal clarified, “It would be an over-step if we said, ‘don’t appoint this person’. That’s not what we are saying. What we intend to say is that [Modi] has tremendous power as leader of India and he should use that power to stand up for everybody to practice their religion.”

Jayapal and the rest of the bipartisan delegation met on Wednesday with Arun Jaitley, who serves as both India’s defense minister and its finance minister, as well as with foreign minister S. Jaishankar. On Thursday, they met with Modi.

Jayapal’s office did not comment on whether the White House or State Department should speak up more for minority rights in India, but did offer that the lawmaker’s suggestion is not unique to Modi. A spokesperson noted that she has “a strong record on speaking out on human rights” across the world and in the United States.

And, this week, in India, too.

Photo credit: Alex Wong/Getty Images

Emily Tamkin is the U.S. editor of the New Statesman and the author of The Influence of Soros, published July 2020. Twitter: @emilyctamkin

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