A key US lawmaker has asked defence secretary Lloyd Austin to “specifically raise democracy and human rights concerns” during his discussions with the Indian government.

Lloyd Austin, who is the first Black US defence secretary, will arrive in New Delhi on Friday to advance India-US relations.

According to a media report, the top US lawmaker, who is dealing with foreign relations, has also asked Austin to “make clear that respect for democratic values is necessary for strong, sustainable US-India relations”.

“I would like to see the US-India partnership grow, but we must acknowledge that the partnership is strongest when based on shared democratic values and the Indian government has been trending away from those values,” the report quoted US Senator Bob Menendez as saying in a letter.

Bob Menendez is the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

In the letter, Menendez also said the Indian government’s “ongoing crackdown on farmers peacefully protesting new farming laws and corresponding intimidation of journalists and government critics only underscores the deteriorating situation of democracy in India”.

US defence secretary Lloyd has been asked to reaffirm the Joe Biden administration’s opposition to India’s purchase of the Russian S-400 missile defense system.

“If India chooses to go forward with its purchase of the S-400, that act will clearly constitute a significant, and therefore sanctionable, transaction with the Russian defense sector under Section 231 of CAATSA,” said Menendez.

“It will also limit India’s ability to work with the US on development and procurement of sensitive military technology. I expect you to make all of these challenges clear in conversations with your Indian counterparts,” he added.

Joe Biden recently described Russian President Vladimir Putin as a “killer” who would “pay a price” for election meddling.

Menendez reminded Austin that in recent years, rising anti-Muslim sentiment and related government actions like the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), the suppression of political dialogue and arrest of political opponents following the abrogation of Article 370 in Kashmir, and the use of sedition laws to persecute political opponents have resulted in the US human rights group Freedom House stripping India of its ‘free’ status in its yearly global survey.

Menendez in the letter writes: “As the Interim National Security Strategic Guidance states, ‘democracy is essential to meeting the challenges of our time.’ We should seek to partner with India to address challenges from China to climate change, but in doing so we cannot let our democratic values fall away.”

“I urge you to raise the importance of democracy and human rights in your meetings with Indian officials to make clear that respect for democratic values is necessary for strong, sustainable US-India relations,” he added.

US Senator Bob Menendez’s letter comes close on the heels of Indian foreign minister S Jaishankar coming down heavily on western human rights bodies and think-tanks “who find it very difficult to stomach that somebody in India is not looking for their approval”.

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