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Harris to Modi: ‘Incumbent on our nations to protect democracies’

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US vice president’s statements mark a subtle change from Trump administration’s approach towards India’s Hindu nationalist leader.

As democracies around the world are under threat, “it is imperative that we defend democratic principles and institutions within our respective countries,” US Vice President Kamala Harris has told Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

“I know from personal experience and from my family of the commitment of the Indian people to democracy, and the work that needs to be done (so that) we can begin to imagine, and then actually achieve, our vision for democratic principles and institutions,” Harris said in public remarks made during a meeting on Thursday between the two leaders.

The remarks marked a subtle departure from the Trump administration’s approach towards the Hindu nationalist Modi, who has presided over an increase in religious polarisation in his country, with more laws discriminating against religious minorities, mainly its large Muslim population, as well as attacks on non-Hindus.

A man wears cut-outs of Biden and Harris on a street in Chennai, India [File: R Parthibhan/AP Photo]

Harris, whose mother was born in India, is the first United States vice president of Indian descent. She is also the first woman and first Black person to hold the second-most powerful office in the country.

Her 15-minute public meeting with Modi was cheered by a large contingent of Indian reporters and a crowd of Indian Americans, who number more than four million in the US.

Despite the mild pressure, the two leaders shared warm words, including praise from Harris for India’s role in producing coronavirus vaccines for the world.

“On COVID-19, our nations have worked together. Early in the pandemic, India was a vital source of vaccines for other countries,” she said. “And I welcome India’s announcement that it will soon be able to resume vaccine exports.”

India, the world’s biggest vaccine maker, announced earlier this week that it would resume exports to other nations after stopping in April to focus on inoculating its own population.

Modi thanked Harris for offering a “sense of kinship” in a phone call during his country’s deadly coronavirus surge this spring.

He invited Harris to visit his country, telling her that Indians “are waiting to welcome you” and calling her “the source of inspiration for so many people across the world”.

“I am completely confident that under President Biden and your leadership, our bilateral relationship will reach new heights,” said the Indian leader.

India has become a closer US ally in recent years as Washington, DC recognises the South Asian country’s strategic importance in countering China’s growing military and financial powers.

Modi is scheduled to meet with President Joe Biden on Friday and then separately again with Harris and Biden in meetings of the so-called Quad, which also includes Japan and Australia.

The gathering of the leaders from Australia, India, Japan and the US comes on the heels of Biden dealing with backlash from France after he announced that the US, with the assistance of Britain, would equip Australia with nuclear-powered submarines.

Modi on Thursday also met the chief executives of Qualcomm, Blackstone, Adobe, First Solar and General Atomics, according to media reports.

Modi, former chief minister of western India’s Gujarat state before his 2014 national election win, was banned from travelling to the US for nearly 10 years, following the 2002 killings of more than 1,000 people, most of them Muslims.



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