In a surprising turn of events, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, known for his oratory skills and for not holding a single press conference during his nine-year tenure, addressed a press conference in Washington on June 22. The event gained significance due to a particularly sensitive question raised by an American journalist.
Sabrina Siddiqui, a prominent American journalist of Pakistani descent and a White House reporter for The Wall Street Journal, asked PM Modi about human rights in India. She questioned, “What steps are you and your government willing to take to improve the rights of Muslims and other minorities in your country and to uphold free speech?”
PM Modi expressed surprise at the criticism and reiterated that democracy is at the core of India. However, he did not outline specific measures to address international concerns. Instead, he broadly defended India’s record on democracy and his government’s commitment to human rights. He emphasized that the fundamental foundation of his government has been “Sabka Saath, Sabka Vikas, Sabka Vishwas, and Sabka Prayas,” which means together for everyone’s growth, with everyone’s trust.
PM Modi stated, “Democracy runs in our veins… We have always proved that democracy can deliver, regardless of caste, creed, religion, or gender. If there are no human rights, then it’s not a democracy… There is absolutely no space for discrimination.” PM Modi highlighted the principles of inclusivity and equal access to government benefits, reiterating that these principles form the basis of how India operates and how its citizens live their lives.
Siddiqui, who asked the question during the press conference, currently covers the Biden presidency for The Wall Street Journal. Prior to that, Siddiqui worked at The Guardian, where she covered the White House and the 2016 presidential election. She is a graduate of Northwestern University and resides in Washington, D.C., with her husband and child.
The visit of PM Modi to the United States has sparked protests from human rights activists who urge President Biden not to engage with him. The hashtag #ModiNotWelcome has been used by activists to highlight alleged human rights violations and discrimination against religious minorities in India. Despite the concerns raised, India’s status as the world’s largest democracy adds further significance to the discussions surrounding the visit.
Several Democratic legislators, including Reps. Ilhan Omar, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Cori Bush, Rashida Tlaib, and Jamaal Bowman, have announced their decision to boycott PM Modi’s joint address to Congress, scheduled for Thursday afternoon.
It is worth noting that PM Modi has not held a single press conference since being elected as prime minister in 2014. Although he appeared at a press conference in May 2019, he did not take any questions. PM Modi is known for his oratory skills and prefers delivering speeches rather than engaging with reporters as he has done during this trip.