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07/05/2023 New Delhi (International Christian Concern) — In a sign of the complexities facing U.S.-Indian relations, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi hosted the Shanghai Cooperation Organization security summit Tuesday. Attendees of the summit included Russian President Valdimir Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping. The bloc welcomed Iran into its ranks this year and is poised to admit Belarus next year.

The timing, just weeks after a state visit by Modi to Washington, illustrates the multipolar world order envisioned by India in which it chooses partners based on limited self-interest rather than the traditional geopolitical fault lines dividing western states from countries like Russia and China.

Modi also visited longtime Egyptian dictator Abdel Fattah el-Sisi recently, flying directly to the meeting in Cairo from Washington where he had been feted in the White House and allowed to address Congress. Egypt has a long history of human rights violations, including the persecution of Christians and other religious minorities.

The U.S. sees India as a critical counterweight to Chinese influence in Asia and has courted the country for many years despite India’s backsliding democracy and its worsening human rights record, including the persecution of Christians. The Summit, which includes not only India and Russia but Pakistan and four Central Asian countries, is a prime forum for Chinese influence across the region and a cause of concern for U.S. officials trying to counter Chinese authoritarianism.

Some experts believe that Washington’s hopeful dependence on India as an ally in its conflict against China is misplaced, pointing to India’s support for Russia during the ongoing war against Ukraine. In the year since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Modi has overseen an elevenfold increase in imports of Russian oil, defying U.S. demands and extending a vital economic lifeline to the Russian war effort. The move has placed a strain on U.S.-India relations and will doubtless be raised during Modi’s visit.

“New Delhi will never involve itself in any U.S. confrontation with Beijing that does not directly threaten its own security,” Ashley Tellis, a leading expert on U.S.-India relations, recently wrote in Foreign Affairs. “India values cooperation with Washington for the tangible benefits it brings but does not believe that it must, in turn, materially support the United States in any crisis.” Even aside from whether India’s human rights record should be ignored, then, the U.S. effort to court India is far from guaranteed to produce a reliable ally.

The U.S. Department of State reported earlier this year that “attacks on members of religious minority communities, including killings, assaults, and intimidation, occurred in various states [across India] throughout the year.” Further, the report discussed the issue of state-level laws which criminalize minority religious activity and highlighted “numerous reports during the year of violence by law enforcement authorities against members of religious minorities in multiple states.”

In May, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom also raised concerns about persecution in India, saying that religious freedom conditions “continued to worsen” in the last year and recommending that the U.S. designate India as a Country of Particular Concern for engaging in “systematic, ongoing, and egregious violations of religious freedom.”

In his time as Prime Minister, Modi has overseen a sharp increase in religious violence across the country. In 2014, the year Modi took office, there were 144 recorded incidents of religious violence according to civil society leaders in India. In 2022, there were more than 600 incidents and 2023 is trending similarly. Many states have also enacted anti-conversion laws since 2014, statutes that criminalize most minority religious activity and embolden mobs to attack peaceful Christian and Muslim gatherings. Modi and his ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) have also been sharply criticized of late for their lack of response to the violence and conflict in Manipur.

Modi himself was previously banned from entering the U.S. for his role in the 2002 Gujarat riots which left over 2,000 Muslims dead. The Chief Minister of Gujarat at the time, Modi’s public comments and failure to stop the riots led to massive religious violence against Gujarati Muslims. In 2005, the U.S. Department of State determined that his actions amounted to a severe violation of religious freedom, triggering the only known use of the International Religious Freedom Act to sanction a foreign official.

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