India's strength is secular democracy with minority rights: Congressman

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Expressing concern over situation in Jammu and Kashmir and the Citizenship Amendment Bill that was cleared in the Indian parliament, a top Indian-American Democratic Congressman has said that India's strength is as a secular democracy and protecting the rights of minority communities is a key aspect of it.

"India's strength has been a secular democracy. And being a secular democracy means protecting the rights of the minorities. That was the vision of Mahatma Gandhi and Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru," Ami Bera, the longest serving Indian-American Congressman, said.

Comments of Bera, 54, came as the contentious Citizenship Amendment Bill (CAB), which seeks to provide Indian citizenship to non-Muslim migrants from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan, was passed by Rajya Sabha on Wednesday. Lok Sabha cleared the Bill on Monday.

Bera, who is expected to assume the chairmanship of the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Asia Pacific on Thursday, said in the recent weeks and months most of the time of India US relationship is spend on issues like Kashmir.

"I think there are some measures that has moved in the right direction," he said.

India on August 5 abrogated provisions of Article 370 of the Constitution to withdraw Jammu and Kashmir's special status and bifurcated it into two union territories.

Pakistan reacted strongly to India's decision and downgraded bilateral ties and expelled the Indian envoy.

India has categorically told the international community that the scrapping of Article 370 was an internal matter. It has also advised Pakistan to accept the reality and stop all anti-India propaganda.

Bera has advocated and introduced legislation in the House of Representatives supporting India as permanent member of the UN Security Council.

"But with that comes responsibilities as well. India has to decide if it wants to be that world leader as it moves from a developing nation to developed nation to a leading nation, he said during a programme to commemorate the 60th anniversary of president Eisenhower's Historic Visit to India".

"It's my hope given the importance of our relationship that it does realise that place at the table. And that's my hope when we have the two by two dialogue next week," he added.

He said India's strength was a secular democracy.

"India's strength is, as I've said in recent days, in recent months, is a secular democracy. If you look at the founding of the nation, it's founded on values of being a secular democracy. Holding onto that identity is incredibly important, he said, adding that the strength of any democracy is protecting the rights of minority groups.

"In this case it's not lost on anyone in this room, some of the, the tensions happening in India. I would like us to move past a conversation on Kashmir to a conversation on trade, a conversation on defense. But right now, most of my conversations with colleagues are can you tell me what's happening in Kashmir? That becomes a barrier to all the other things that, that we truly could accomplish and, in a partnership, Bera said.

India, he noted, has to ask the question of what it wants to be.

"It had guiding principles that former Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru and Mahatma Gandhi laid out that I believe served India very well as a complicated nation, he said.



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