Jun 22, 2023 - World

Modi touts democracy, denies discrimination in rare press conference

Photo: Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who rarely takes questions from reporters, issued an emphatic defense of India's democracy in a press conference on Thursday alongside President Biden.

Why it matters: The Biden administration sees Modi's state visit as a launchpad to a deeper relationship with India, a rising economic power that is central to Biden's strategy to contend with China. But India's crackdown on dissent and persecution of minorities on Modi's watch cast a shadow over the proceedings.

  • Biden addressed the topic in his opening remarks, saying human rights "face challenges around the world and in our two countries" but remain "vital to the success of each of our nations." He specifically mentioned freedom of the press, freedom of religion, tolerance and diversity.
  • Biden said he and Modi had "a good discussion of democratic values," and argued that India's democratic tradition was a primary reason the U.S.-India relationship was stronger than the U.S.-China one.
  • "There's an overwhelming respect for each other because we're both democracies," Biden said.

Driving the news: For his part, Modi said he was "surprised" that people were concerned about India's democracy.

  • "We have always proved that democracy can deliver — and when I say deliver, this is regardless of caste, creed, religion, gender. There is absolutely no space for discrimination," Modi said.
  • "In India's democratic values, there is absolutely no discrimination, neither on the basis of caste, creed or age or any kind of geographic location," he added.

Yes, but: Freedom House downgraded India from "Free" to "Partly Free" on Modi's watch because of what it describes as "discriminatory policies and a rise in persecution affecting the Muslim population."

Between the lines: Modi has not held a single press conference in India since becoming prime minister nine years ago, according to Reuters.

  • He and Biden took two questions — from one Indian and one U.S. journalist — rather than the typical four.
  • In their opening remarks, both leaders focused on the positive aspects of the relationship. Biden said the U.S. and India were collaborating on "virtually every human endeavor," from medical research, to spaceflight, to artificial intelligence.

What's next: Modi is scheduled to address a joint session of Congress on Thursday and then attend a state dinner at the White House.

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