Washington: US President Donald Trump will raise the issue of religious freedom with Prime Minister Narendra Modi during his visit to India next week, the White House said, noting that the US has great respect for India's democratic traditions and institutions and will continue to encourage it to uphold those values.
Ahead of Trump's first visit to India, The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom, a bipartisan American federal entity, published a 'factsheet', claiming that the Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA) represents a significant downturn in religious freedom in India.
"President Trump will talk about our shared tradition of democracy and religious freedom both in his public remarks and then certainly in private. He will raise these issues, particularly the religious freedom issue, which is extremely important to this administration," a senior official at the White House told reporters in a conference call on Friday.
The official was responding to a question on whether the president was planning to speak to Prime Minister Modi on the CAA or the National Register of Citizens (NRC).
According to the CAA, members of Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Jain, Parsi and Christian communities who have come from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan till December 31, 2014 following religious persecution there will get Indian citizenship.
The NRC has been prepared to identify genuine Indian citizens living in Assam since March 24, 1971, or before, and identify illegal Bangladeshi migrants in the state. It was conducted in the state on the directions of the Supreme Court.
"We do have this shared commitment to upholding our universal values, the rule of law. We have great respect for India's democratic traditions and institutions, and we will continue to encourage India to uphold those traditions," the White House official said, requesting anonymity.
"And we are concerned with some of the issues that you have raised," the senior administration official said, in response to the question on CAA and NRC.
The Indian government has been emphasising that the new law will not deny any citizenship rights, but has been brought to protect the oppressed minorities of neighbouring countries and give them citizenship.
It has maintained that the CAA is an internal matter of the country and stressed that the goal is to protect the oppressed minorities of neighbouring countries.
On the issue of NRC, Prime Minister Narendra Modi last month said his government has never discussed the NRC since coming to power for the first time in 2014 and it was done only in Assam.
"I think the President will talk about these issues in his meetings with Prime Minister Modi and note that the world is looking to India to continue to uphold its democratic traditions, respect for religious minorities," the official said.
"Of course, it's in the Indian Constitution -- religious freedom, respect for religious minorities, and equal treatment of all religions. So, this is something that is important to the president and I'm sure it will come up," said the official.
Pointing out that India has a strong democratic foundation, the official said India is a country rich in religious, linguistic, and cultural diversity.
"In fact, it's the birthplace of four major world religions," the official noted.
"Prime Minister Modi, in his first speech after winning the election last year, talked about how he would prioritise being inclusive of India's religious minorities. And, certainly, the world looks to India to maintain religious liberty and equal treatment for all under the rule of law," said the senior administration official.
President Trump and First Lady Melania Trump are scheduled to travel to Ahmedabad, Agra and New Delhi on February 24 and 25.