NEW YORK   -   India’s military crackdown continuing unabated in curfew-bound Jammu and Kashmir, Human Rights Watch, a prominent international watchdog, has cautioned members of the US Congress against attending a rally in Houston, Texas, on Sept 22, which is being organised by Indian-Americans to welcome Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

The event, called “Howdy, Modi!”, will take place ahead of the Indian premier’s appearance at the UN General Assembly session in New York later this month. It reportedly includes a segment meant to honour human rights champions like M.K Gandhi and American civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr.

“Modi presided over the worst anti-Muslim violence in the last generation, in 2002 in Gujerat when he was the chief minister of the state,” Brad Adams, who heads the Asia Division of Human Rights Watch, was quoted as saying in The Daily Beast, an American news and opinion website, focused on politics.

“If they are comparing him to Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr., then they’re demeaning the legacies of two of the world’s great human rights champions.”

Over the last month, the newspaper noted that the Modi government had moved thousands of troops into Kashmir, rounded up more than thousands of Kashmiris, and cut off phone lines and internet access in the disputed region.

The government of Pakistan has said genocide could be coming, the paper pointed out. And world leaders have said India’s move means a conflict between the two nuclear powers may be closer than ever.

Despite that, The Daily Beast said, a Democratic member of Congress is urging his colleagues to appear with Prime Minister Modi’s at the rally.

Congressman Brad Sherman, who is co-chairman of the Congressional Caucus on India and Indian-Americans, has sent a letter to members of Congress on August 23 asking them to participate in the event.

The letter says that Modi will appear at NRG Park, claiming that the event will be broadcast to more than 300 million people.

According to Sherman’s letter, it “will include a segment honouring the great work of human rights leaders Mahatma Gandhi and Dr Martin Luther King, Jr.”

“I hope that you will participate in welcoming Prime Minister Modi to Houston,” he wrote to members of Congress.

Members of Congress who participate will get a bit of airtime, according to the event schedule in Sherman’s letter.

The members will be introduced on stage right before Modi begins delivering an address.

“The invitation has raised eyebrows on the Hill,” The Daily Beast said. 

“India is a friend and ally,” an unnamed member of Congress, was quoted as saying in the newspaper. “But no member or senator should join a pep rally for Modi as long as India is holding people without charge, cutting off communications to people in Kashmir, and provoking a nuclear-armed neighbour.”

Brad Adams of Human Rights Watch backed that statement, saying, “It’s hard to believe that any member of Congress who would attend such an event doesn’t know better.”

But Congressman Sherman defended his involvement in the event through a statement, pointing out that there were four million Indian-Americans in the United States. 

“The U.S. and India have a deep security relationship and many common interests in the Indo-Pacific. It would be a mistake not to recognise that,” Sherman said.

“I do have serious concerns about Kashmir and other human rights issues in South Asia, and that’s why I am planning a Hearing on Human Rights in South Asia.

“I had an opportunity to meet with Americans who had returned from Kashmir valley just a week ago in the San Fernando Valley, along with my colleague Congressman Andre Carson,” Sherman said in his statement, announcing the hearing.

“We heard stories of difficulties encountered by my constituents and others, and the fears they have for their loved ones. I look forward to learning more about human rights in Kashmir.”