Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi met US President Donald Trump in Washington DC on Monday. Both are avid users of social media and announced their meetings in advance. Trump tweeted that he had “important strategic issues to discuss with a true friend!” Modi said on Facebook that he planned on “building a forward looking vision for our partnership with the new Administration in the United States under President Trump.”
The US-India alliance has long focused on trade and commercial ventures, but the last few years saw steps to move toward a more comprehensive dialogue, including human rights-related issues.
Yesterday’s joint statement, however, failed even a token mention of free expression or religious freedom – issues of pressing concern in both countries. Nor did it acknowledge worrying trends of rising communalism in various parts of the world, or armed conflicts in which rampant abuses are forcing millions into becoming refugees. “Combatting terrorist threats” and “increasing free and fair trade” were the main focus, though India and the US pledged to promote security in Afghanistan and increase collaboration on the Middle East, and both condemned North Korea. In a small victory for the Modi government, the statement called upon Pakistan to ensure that its territory is not used to launch terrorist attacks on other countries.
But Modi, at least publicly, did not raise any alarm over the Trump administration’s proposed travel ban on people from several Muslim countries or police abuse in the US. Nor are there indications that he raised the attacks on Indians in the US earlier this year.
Trump did not comment publicly on the crackdown on civil society in India, or the threat posed to vulnerable groups. Nor did he mention the populist hate campaign that has spawned brutal mob killings of Muslims suspected of trading or consuming beef.
In their prepared comments at a joint press conference, they spoke of mutual trust and shared values. They did speak of democracy, long a common bond of the two nations. But then, ironically, they refused to respond to any journalist queries – perhaps another shared value.
Thus, at the end of a meeting between the heads of the world’s biggest democracies, the media is left discussing the leaders’ penchants for aggressive handshakes or bear hugs. And for the millions whose lives could perhaps have improved a bit if Modi and Trump chose to speak for their rights—they will just have to be disappointed.