India too big to ‘take a pass’ on Russia-Ukraine, say bipartisan US senators

Yashwant Raj (IANS)–

Ahead of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s upcoming state visit later this month, a bipartisan duo of senior US Senators known to be longtime friends of India have expressed disappointment that India “took a pass” on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and did not take a position behoving a major power.

One of them, took issue with internal political developments in India and said on Tuesday that he would like to hear from Modi, when he addressed a joint session of US Congress, a “commitment, a recommitment” to democracy.

Senators Mark Warner, a Democrat, and John Cornyn, a Republican, are co-chairs of the Senate India Caucus, the later, in fact, is a co-founder of the group, which has become the largest country-specific caucus in the upper chamber.

And their public remarks came at the US-India Business Council’s annual India Ideas summit, which celebrates growing economic and strategic partnership between the two countries and has the blessings of the administration of the day — Secretary of State Antony Blinken kicked off the summit with a speech on Monday and Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo address the summit on Tuesday.

The two Senators sounded generally bullish about ties with India and though their remarks did not have the endorsement of the administration or the US Congress or even the US Chamber they reflected a persisting sense of disquiet with India’s relative silence on the Russian invasion of Ukraine and internal political developments in India.

“It was a little bit disappointing that when Russia invaded Ukraine, India took a pass,” said Senator Cornyn, who, though went on to add that he understood why India did that — because of “dependency on Russian weaponry”. Also, he acknowledged that India “cannot hit the reset button and undo 50 years of history overnight”.

Senator Warner, who heads the Senate Intelligence Committee, was less patient.

“The fact that India has arrived as a truly great — one the most important nations in the world, they can no longer take a pass on some of these things like this moral … (backsliding on the part of Russian President Vladimir) Putin.”

The US has been unhappy with India’s reluctance to criticise Putin forcefully. While the Biden administration has remained largely non-committal — with the exception of an outburst by a senior official during a visit to India — lawmakers have been less retrained.

Senator Warner went further. “I say this with appropriate respect, not trying to stick my nose in internal Indian Affairs,” he started, acknowledging how his remarks could be perceived.

“But as a great nation, as a great democracy, I hope we will hear will hear from the Prime Minister — because he is so popular — are we committed to rule of law, are we committed to a political process that (remains open).”

“I have been troubled by some of the actions that are a bit over the top. I’ve heard privately concerns, in terms of making sure that (the) very vibrant, free press (remains) vibrant (and strong),” the Senator said further, and added, “So I hope … we will get a commitment, a recommitment.”

Warner was responding to a question from the moderator of the panel discussion on expectations from the Prime Minister’s upcoming state visit and an address to the joint session of the US Congress.

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