The topmost American diplomat in India today said the US government “will continue to raise” the Indian election campaign rhetoric that verges on communal hate. “This is a conversation we have perpetually with our Indian colleagues,” said Elizabeth Jones, the US Charge d’ Affaires.
“That’s one of the benefits of this consequential relationship, that we can discuss a great variety of issues — easy issues, difficult issues; issues on which we agree, issues on which we don’t,” she said.
About the communal rhetoric, she further said, “We have been discussing this for a long time and will continue to do so.”
The campaign in Gujarat, PM Narendra Modi’s home state, has taken a turn towards communally charged statements by his party BJP. Union Home Minister Amit Shah’s statement about the 2002 riots allegedly gaslighting Muslims has stood out: “There was no room for development in Gujarat because of chaos. In 2002, they tried to indulge in communal violence… we taught them such a lesson, we put them in jail.”
Mr Shah did not name any community but, in the context of BJP’s aggressive Hindutva brand of politics, it was interpreted as a reference to Muslims, who in fact formed the majority of the victims in the 2002 riots when PM Modi was Chief Minister.
Other BJP leaders, such as Assam Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma, have since built on this rhetoric as the BJP seeks to continue its 27-year unbroken reign in Gujarat and also hopes to retain Himachal Pradesh.
“Hindus normally do not contribute to riots. Hindus do not believe in ‘jihad’,” Mr Sarma said on Thursday in an interview with NDTV.
The US interim envoy, besides responding to questions on this rhetoric — she did not specify any statements — also spoke on the India-US military exercises in Uttarakhand’s Auli that China has objected to.
“I would point you to the comments by my Indian colleagues, that it’s none of their (China’s) business,” said Ms Jones, firmly taking a side. The Indian foreign ministry has said, “India exercises with whomsoever it chooses to and we do not give veto to third countries on this issue.”
On trade and a possible priority deal for India, however, Ms Jones said that since trade has doubled in the last seven years to $157 billion, “I don’t think anyone believes we need a trade deal. There is no discussion on that at this point.”
She was interacting with some journalists as part of a briefing. The Joe Biden administration has not appointed a permanent envoy to India since Kenneth Juster, a political appointee of the Donald Trump administration, departed after the change of government. Ms Jones, who has held senior positions in Pakistan and worked in Afghanistan and Europe policies of the US, is the sixth interim envoy to India since then, having joined only about two months ago.