WASHINGTON                -             India’s foreign minister abruptly cancelled a meeting with senior members of the US Congress, after American lawmakers refused to exclude a Congresswoman who has criticised Narendra Modi’s policies in Indian Occupied Kashmir, reported The Washington Post. 

During his visit to Washington, India’s External Affairs Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar scheduled a meeting with members of the US Congress but Indian officials informed the committee that Jaishankar would cancel the meeting if Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal was attending.

Jayapal has co-sponsored a resolution urging India to lift the communication blockade in occupied Kashmir. “This only furthers the idea that the Indian government isn’t willing to listen to any dissent at all,” she said.  “The seriousness of this moment should’ve been a reason for a conversation, not dictating who’s in the meeting, which seems very petty.”

Days after the controversial new citizenship law was passed in India – offering citizenship rights to Hindu, Buddhist, Christian, Parsi and Jain communities migrating from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan, but excluding Muslims – US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo met Jaishankar.

After the meeting, Pompeo expressed concern for minorities everywhere. “We care deeply and always will about protecting minorities, protecting religious rights everywhere,” he said.

Regarding the anti-Muslim law, Jayapal said it “adds a whole level of complexity to India as a secular democracy – one of the greatest prides of the country”.

She had planned to advance her resolution on Kashmir this week, but decided to wait until after her meeting with the minister. Now she plans to renew her push in January. “My constituents care about the human rights situation, thousands of people detained without charges, and a communication crackdown that makes daily life more difficult,” she said. “It has been extremely brutal for families in Kashmir.”

The Indian minister also admitted that the situation in Kashmir was briefly discussed during his bilateral meeting with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and American lawmakers in separate meetings inquired about the amended Citizenship Act.

Jaishankar held bilateral talks with Pompeo at the State Department, following which they were joined by the Defence Minister Rajnath Singh and US Defence Secretary Mark Esper for the second 2+2 dialogue.

In an interaction with a group of Indian journalists on Thursday, Jaishankar said the situation in Kashmir was discussed with Pompeo. “Secretary Pompeo and I had a brief discussion on that (Kashmir). I shared with him that direction of events was positive. Obviously, things will happen at their time,” he said when asked if the Kashmir situation was discussed during his meetings here.

Separately, a senior US State Department official told a group of reporters that America has spoken publicly about its concerns over prolonged detention of political leaders in Kashmir and it, of course, welcomes a return to economic and political normalcy in Jammu and Kashmir.

In an interaction with a group of reporters, a senior State Department official said the US has regular conversation with the Indian authorities on a varied range of issues, including those related to human rights and religious freedom.

“We recognise and, frankly, appreciate that India is a vibrant democracy, as are we. And the issues you speak are obviously being actively debated and discussed in India at this time. You made reference to the Citizenship Amendment Act,” the official said in response to a question.

“Obviously, we are seeing the active political debate, the discussions in Parliament, the protests by people who are espousing their views on that law,” the official said. The official said the US is also fully aware that there is a judicial process that is underway and it respect India’s democratic institutions and practices, and will continue to observe it on an ongoing basis.

“And the other point is that we also have to talk to India about the fact that as democracies, issues around minority rights, religious freedom, human rights are important pillars of democratic societies, and obviously encourage India and other democracies to adhere to those principles,” the official said.