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Biden needs India to counter China, but it comes with a cost

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India’s prime minister is in Washington this week for a coveted White House meeting. But Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalism and his country’s backsliding on human rights and democracy are creating a problematic alliance for President Joe Biden.

Modi, a favorite friend of former President Donald Trump, will meet Biden on Friday along with the leaders of Australia and Japan. The four countries make up the “Quad,” a grouping Biden is trying to elevate in a broader effort to stand up to China.

While the members of the Quad all are democracies, India’s was recently downgraded from “free” to “partly free” by Freedom House, which slammed Modi’s government for everything from harassment of journalists to attacks on non-Hindus.

Yet not only have Biden administration officials kept their public criticisms of Modi to a minimum, they’ve even engaged in outreach to Modi allies known for their extreme views.

Earlier this month, the top U.S. diplomat in New Delhi met with the leader of an Indian organization notorious for its often-violent promotion of Hindu nationalism. The U.S. envoy, Atul Keshap, was reported to say afterward that he’d had a “good discussion” with Mohan Bhagwat, chief of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, a movement with paramilitary elements that intimidate Muslims and other non-Hindus. Keshap said the pair spoke of how “India’s tradition of diversity, democracy, inclusivity and pluralism can ensure the vitality and strength of a truly great nation.”

Those remarks did little to reassure longtime observers of the Washington-New Delhi dynamic, who fear it’s all part of a broader willingness of the Biden administration to look away from the Modi government’s abuses despite U.S. influence on the country.

“Why is the Biden administration so mute on India’s human rights situation? Why are U.S. officials pulling their punches? What is the strategy?” asked John Sifton, Asia advocacy director at Human Rights Watch. “The U.S. is a vital partner to India, in trade, diplomacy and military relations — this is leverage that the Biden administration does not seem to know how to measure properly.”

On Thursday, as the Indian leader scored a meeting with Vice President Kamala Harris, one U.S. lawmaker also voiced concern about India’s trajectory under Modi.

“I hope his White House visit includes honest conversations about how the Modi government can ensure India’s democracy remains a democracy for all of its people,” Rep. Andy Levin (D-Mich.) said in a statement.

White House and State Department spokespersons did not offer on-the-record comments for this story. The Indian Embassy also did not respond to requests for comment. Keshap, who was in charge of the U.S. Embassy in India on a temporary basis, has since left the post.

Elevating the Quad, including India, will continue to be a priority, a senior Biden administration official said Thursday in a........

© Politico

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