Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar at a news conference in 2021. Tlaib and Omar are among those who have said they will boycott Narendra Modi’s address to Congress on Thursday. Photograph: Drew Angerer/Getty Images
Narendra Modi’s state visit to the US has prompted condemnation and protest from Muslim leaders, lawmakers and other allies.
US house representatives Rashida Tlaib, Representative Ilhan Omar, Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Cori Bush and Kweisi Mfume are among those who have said they will boycott the Indian prime minister’s address to Congress on Thursday in light of the violence and repression of the media and religious minorities like Muslims, Christians, Sikhs and Dalits carried out under his rightwing nationalist government.
“Modi has a notorious and extensive record of human rights abuses,” Tlaib, Bush, Omar and Jamaal Bowman said in a statement. “He was complicit in the 2002 Gujarat riots that killed over 1,000 people, leading to the revocation of his US visa. His government has openly targeted Muslims and other religious minorities, enabled Hindu nationalist violence, undermined democracy, targeted journalists and dissidents, and suppressed criticism using authoritarian tactics like internet shutdowns and censorship.
“It is shameful to honor these abuses by allowing Modi to address a joint session of Congress. We refuse to participate in it and will be boycotting the joint address. We stand in solidarity with the communities that have been harmed by Modi and his policies. We must never sacrifice human rights at the altar of political expediency and we urge all members of Congress who profess to stand for freedom and democracy to join us in boycotting this embarrassing spectacle.”
In a statement, the Center on Islamic Relations (Cair), the US’s largest Muslim civil liberties and advocacy organization, also said it “welcomes pledges by members of Congress to boycott Thursday’s joint meeting of Congress honoring India’s far-right, anti-Muslim Prime Minister Narendra Modi”.
Cair’s research and advocacy director, Corey Saylor, said: “Leaders do the right thing in the face of pressure to comply with bad ethics. Boycotting any event honoring Prime Minister Modi centers our value of religious freedom over cynical politics. We applaud these elected officials and urge others to join their leadership.”
Saylor added: “The honor of a state dinner and joint meeting of Congress signals to Modi that no one will interfere in his repression of Indian religious minorities and journalists.”
Modi was once denied a visa to visit the US by the state department in 2005 because of his violent persecution of minority faiths in Gujarat, where he served as chief minister.
More recently, anti-Muslim policy and violence in India and in Indian communities abroad have ramped up under Modi.
In 2019, citing militancy in the region, Modi stripped Kashmir – India’s only Muslim-majority state – of its constitutional autonomy in what was seen as an effort to make India a Hindu-first nation, eroding the pluralistic and secular reputation for which the country was once known.
That same year, the Citizenship Amendment Act was passed, amending the country’s citizenship law so that naturalization could be expedited for Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Jain, Parsi and Christian migrants from Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan, but not Muslims. As a result, violent clashes broke out in 2020 in the capital city of New Delhi. About 50 people were killed, most of whom were Muslim.
Modi’s government has also been accused by rights groups of turning a blind eye to the violence committed against Muslim cow farmers by rightwing Hindutva vigilantes with the aim of protecting cows, a holy animal in Hinduism.
Tlaib, who is one of only three Muslim members serving in the House, said: “It’s shameful that Modi has been given a platform at our nation’s capital – his long history of human rights abuses, anti-democratic actions, targeting Muslims & religious minorities, and censoring journalists is unacceptable. I will be boycotting Modi’s joint address to Congress.”
A letter was also signed by 75 Democrats, detailing the human rights violations under Modi and urging Biden to “discuss the full range of issues important to a successful, strong, and long-term relationship between our two great countries”.
Modi’s visit to the US is seen as an attempt by both countries to forge closer ties so the south Asian country can stop relying on Russia for military arms as it continues to wage war against Ukraine.
It is also speculated that Modi is using this US visit to repair his image after receiving several global “flawed democracy” ratings.