New Delhi: Acting Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asia Dean Thompson told lawmakers that despite being the world's largest democracy, some of the Indian government's actions are inconsistent with the country's democratic values. He was speaking at a Congressional hearing on Democracy in the Indo-Pacific on Wednesday at the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Asia, the Pacific, Central Asia and Nonproliferation.
"India remains the world's largest democracy with a strong rule of law and independent judiciary and enjoys a strong and growing strategic partnership with the United States," Thompson said.
"However, some of the Indian government's actions have raised concerns that are inconsistent with India's democratic values. This includes increasing restrictions on freedom of expression and the detention of human rights activists and journalists," he said while adding that the US regularly engages in and on these issues.
Previously, following criticism by foreign governments and human rights groups for civil liberty erosion, the Indian government had asserted that it has well-established democratic practices and robust institutions to safeguard rights.
Regarding curbs on press freedom, he said, "...that has happened in India; though, I think, India, we can say, has a very vibrant press overall that reports very freely on its government."
Congresswoman Chrissy Houlahan raised the issue of Kashmir and said, "Although of course, they're two great democracies, democracies including ours and India's are not without their flaws and problems. I do have a pretty big (number of) Kashmiris in my community and there is, of course, concern about the treatment of the Kashmiri people." She further requested updates on the dialogue between the two governments in the matter to which Thompson replied, "Kashmir is one area where we have urged them to return to normalcy as quickly as possible, including we've seen some steps taken: The release of prisoners, the restoration of 4G access, things of that nature. There are other electoral steps we'd like to see them take and that we have encouraged them to do and will continue to do so."
Regarding the US-India relationship, Thompson said, "We are, right now, through our global comprehensive strategic partnership with India looking at areas where we can work together to strengthen across the region the effects of the ability of countries to push back on malign influence and through the Quad initiative where we brought in Japan and Australia, as well." He added that the relationship could also enable working together on critical technologies, diversifying supply chains, fighting climate change and improving the environmental situation. The quad initiative is short for Quadrilateral Security Dialogue. It is an informal grouping of US, India, Australia and Japan initiative in 2007, which has resolved to maintain order in the Indo-Pacific amidst increasing Chinese assertion.
"As is the case around the world, the Chinese government uses a combination of economic levers and soft power to pressure South Asian countries to align with its interests, and smaller countries are especially vulnerable to this pressure," Thompson said.