India ready to engage with Blinken on human rights, officials say

U.S. Secretary of State Blinken meets with India's External Affairs Minister Jaishankar
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken speaks to the media prior a meeting with Indian External Affairs Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar at the State Department in Washington, DC, U.S. May 28, 2021. Saul Loeb/Pool via REUTERS

NEW DELHI, July 26 (Reuters) - India is proud of its pluralistic traditions and happy to discuss the issue with U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken during his visit beginning on Tuesday, foreign ministry sources said after Washington said he planned to raise New Delhi's human rights record.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi's government has faced allegations it has suppressed dissent, pursued divisive policies to appeal to its Hindu nationalist base and alienated Muslims, the country's biggest minority.

Ahead of Blinken's first trip as Secretary of State, the State Department said he will discuss India's human rights record as well as a religion-based citizenship law that the Modi government enacted two years ago that Muslims see as discriminatory. read more

Indian foreign ministry sources said that issues such as human rights and democracy were universal and extended beyond a particular country or culture.

One source said India was a long-standing pluralistic society and was open to engaging with "those who now recognise the value of diversity".

The sources could not be identified under government policy.

India and the United States are building close political and security ties to push back against China's growing assertiveness in the region and both sides have said Blinken's trip is aimed at further boosting cooperation.

But rights activists say there is a growing climate of intolerance in India and that the United States must lean on the Modi government to uphold diversity and democratic values, especially if the two countries are drawing closer together to confront an authoritarian China.

Dean Thompson, the State Department's acting assistant secretary for South and Central Asian affairs, told reporters that the United States will continue to have conversations with the Indian side on human rights because these were common values for both countries.

Reporting by Sanjeev Miglani; Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan

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