How U.S. Exploits Human Rights Abuses in India for Its Commercial Interests

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken with External Affairs Minister of India S. Jaishankar in New Delhi on July 28, 2021. Photo: U.S. Department of State
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken with External Affairs Minister of India S. Jaishankar in New Delhi on July 28, 2021. Photo: U.S. Department of State

How U.S. Exploits Human Rights Abuses in India for Its Commercial Interests

The modus operandi of the U.S. leaders is to subtly intimidate Modi with the accusations of corruption and human rights violations, and then force him to buy American products or services worth billions of dollars.

By Rakesh Raman

The whole world knows that India has become a full-fledged dictatorship state where prime minister (PM) Narendra Modi is behaving as a cruel king to demolish all democratic norms with merciless attacks on journalists, illegal incarceration of critics including students and women, seizure of the judiciary, and neglect of the Parliament.

Strangely, however, the U.S. – which is the self-styled promoter of democracy in the world – has been downplaying the demise of democracy in India. The U.S. leaders frequently hobnob with Modi and his colleagues despite their regular criticism of Modi’s autocratic idiosyncrasies. 

It was seen once again when the U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken was visiting India on July 27 and July 28 to discuss a range of issues, including extreme human rights violations under the Modi regime. Blinken refused to acknowledge explicitly that human rights violations are happening in India. Rather, he vaguely said that the U.S. and India share a commitment to democratic values. 

The U.S. ignores the disturbing despotic events in India, because its main objective is to target Indian markets. According to an official communique released by the U.S. Department of State on July 23, Blinken will meet with Modi and raise issues such as attacks on democracy and human rights in India. The communique indicated that the U.S. has been ignoring the human rights violations, including attacks on Muslims, by the Modi government. 

However, these were the stated objectives of Blinken’s visit. He did not raise the rights issues forcefully with the Modi government during his meetings with the Indian top brass. The main purpose of his visit was to promote the U.S. defense sales to India.

Actually, the U.S. has been arm-twisting the Modi government to fulfill its commercial interests. The immediate imperative for the U.S. is to reduce its trade deficit with India which – according to the October 2020 figures from the U.S. Trade Representative – was $28.8 billion in 2019.

The modus operandi of the U.S. leaders is to subtly intimidate Modi with the accusations of corruption and human rights violations, and then force him to buy American products or services worth billions of dollars.

Although the U.S. politicians keep cursing the Modi government for its dictatorial policies, they never take any punitive action against Modi and his accomplices – bureaucrats and ministers – in the Indian government. 

The main objective of the cunning U.S. politicians is not to protect democratic values anywhere in the world, but they are largely driven by their commercial interests. They put artificial pressure on the Modi government to sell U.S. products and services in the Indian market.

In March, for example, U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) called on the Biden administration to further engage with the Modi government over its treatment of farmers in India who have been peacefully demonstrating against the passage of new farm laws.

But simultaneously the U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin was visiting India as a salesman to sell U.S. defense equipment to India. Austin virtually forced the Modi government so India should buy about 30 armed drones as well as nearly 150 combat jets from the United States. The total value of the deal is estimated to be over $20 billion.

The visiting U.S. Defense Secretary also threatened that the U.S. will impose sanctions on the Modi government if India purchased the S-400 missile system from Russia, as it will be construed as a sanctionable transaction with the Russian defense sector under Section 231 of CAATSA (Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act).

As Modi yields to veiled threats against his autocratic actions, he is lavishly spending public money to keep the U.S. and other critical leaders pleased. 

Recently, for example, the U.S. virtually coerced the Indian Navy to procure 24 MH-60R multi-role helicopters, manufactured by Lockheed Martin, from the U.S. under foreign military sales at an estimated cost of $2.4 billion.


The U.S. duplicity is visible in the fact that instead of imposing sanctions on the Modi government, the Biden administration is expanding its trade relations with India despite rampant corruption and human rights violations by Modi and his colleagues. 

The Biden administration has turned a blind eye to the fact that credible organizations have declared India a despotic state under Modi. For example, the V-Dem Institute’s Democracy Report 2021 reveals that India has lost its status as an electoral democracy, as the government led by Modi is imposing various restrictions on multiple facets of democracy such as civil society and free speech.

The V-Dem report – released in March – says that Modi led his Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) to victory in India’s 2014 elections and most of the decline occurred following BJP’s victory and their promotion of a Hindu-nationalist agenda.

The V-Dem report came close on the heels of the Freedom House research reportFreedom in the World 2021: Democracy under Siege” which downgraded India’s status from “Free” to “Partly Free” due to the authoritarian actions of PM Modi and his Hindu nationalist government.

Modi is also being criticized for blatant attacks on journalists and press freedom in India. Earlier this month (July 2021), Paris-based organization Reporters Without Borders (RSF) – which works to protect press freedom in all parts of the world – included Modi in a list of 37 heads of state or government who crack down massively on press freedom. 

Authoritarian PM Modi joins the list with other cruel rulers including Saudi Arabia’s crown prince Mohammed bin Salman, Myanmar’s military head Min Aung Hlaing, Russian President Vladimir Putin, Pakistan PM Imran Khan, and North Korea’s Kim Jong-un.

According to RSF, India is one of the world’s most dangerous countries for journalists trying to do their job properly. They are exposed to every kind of attack, including police violence against reporters, ambushes by political activists, and reprisals instigated by criminal groups or corrupt local officials. Ever since the general elections in the spring of 2019, won overwhelmingly by Modi’s party, RSF says pressure has increased on the media to toe the Hindu nationalist government’s line. 

On the day of Blinken’s visit on July 27, the International Press Institute (IPI) – a global network of editors, media executives, and leading journalists – called on Blinken to raise issues related to press freedom and harassment of journalists during his talks with Indian officials in New Delhi. But there is no news of such a discussion.

Multiple reports from the U.S. itself have denounced a slew of autocratic actions by the Modi government. A recent report released in March by the U.S. Department of State has highlighted the extent of human rights abuses and massive corruption in the Modi government. 

In his call with Modi in February, President Biden made it clear that he wants India to respect democratic values, which have vanished during the past 7 years of Modi’s rule in India. But the Biden administration ignores Modi’s dictatorship because it wants to extort money from the Modi government through trade deals.

Since Modi is a weak and illiterate politician who is being criticized by international leaders for human rights violations in India, he mostly succumbs to the U.S. pressure. While India’s priority is to spend money on Indians who are almost buried under inflation and unemployment inflicted by the Modi regime, PM Modi spends huge public money to buy defense gear which is not required in India. 

This is a kind of bribe by Modi to the U.S. so that the Biden administration should not impose sanctions on Modi and his colleagues. But if the U.S. can sanction equally authoritarian nations such as Cuba, China, Russia, and North Korea, it should have the same policy to punish India.

Earlier, Modi was banned from entering the U.S. for his alleged involvement in the 2002 Gujarat massacre in which thousands of Muslims were murdered. Now again instead of making friendly excursions to India, the U.S. leaders must impose appropriate sanctions on Modi and his close associates in order to live up to the U.S. promise of protecting democracy in all parts of the world.  

By Rakesh Raman, who is a journalist and social activist in India. He is the founder of a humanitarian organization RMN Foundation which is working in diverse areas to help the disadvantaged and distressed people in the society.

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