NEW DELHI: India and the US deepened cooperation between the two countries on Tuesday, signing defence deals and deciding to open a permanent office of the US International Financial Development Corporation, while also discussing touchy issues like Kashmir, religious freedom and Pakistan.
While the Indian side was not very forthcoming on the talks on these issues, with Indian Foreign Secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla only saying US President Donald Trump had already hailed India’s record as a plural society during his speech at Motera in Ahmedabad on Monday, Trump was more open in his press conference in the evening.
Trump said he spoke at length about religious freedom in India and the Muslim and Christian communities with Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
“I asked this question in front of a large group of people today and we talked about it for a long time,” he said.
“We discussed about Muslims and Christians and we talked about religious liberty. Prime Minister Modi told me that they are working very closely with the Muslim community,” he added.
While Trump was forthright, he also strongly supported India’s efforts on religious freedom, stressing that the Indian government was doing its best to improve communal relations.
“The Prime Minister was incredible about religious freedom. He wants people to have religious freedom and they are working very hard on it.”
However, he refused to be drawn into a debate on the Citizenship Amendment Act and the ongoing riots in Delhi, saying that was an internal matter of India.
“It is for India to do and hopefully they will do the right thing,” he said.
Trump’s balancing act can be attributed to his unwillingness to alienate Indian business interests by speaking out sharply against the issue.
“People like Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella commented against the issue and were immediately targeted. After receiving such a grand reception and promises of investments, Trump could not have afforded to speak out blatantly,” according to an expert on Indo-American ties at the Indian Council of World Affairs in Delhi. Describing Kashmir as “thorn in a lot of people’s sides for a long time,”
Trump yet again offered to mediate on the issue, something that India has repeatedly dismissed on the ground that it was a bilateral issue.
Ties with both Modi and Imran good: Prez
“There are two sides to every story but they (India and Pakistan) are working on it,” Trump said.
Revealing that “we talked a lot about Pakistan,” Trump said he would do whatever he could to help.
“I have a very good relationship with Prime Minister (Imran) Khan."
“I can help because my relationship with both the gentlemen (Modi and Khan) is very good.”
But as with religious freedom, Trump praised Modi for his government’s efforts to tackle the Kashmir issue and cross-border terrorism emanating from Pakistan.
“Modi is a very religious man, he is a very calm man but he is very strong.”
The Indian side did not comment on the President’s remarks on the offer to mediate on Kashmir but sources said they had expected it to be raised and they were prepared with their answers.
The banquet in honour of Trump was attended by Vice President M Venkaiah Naidu, CMs Sarbananda Sonowal, Manohar Lal Khattar, BS Yediyurappa and K Chandrashekar Rao. CJI SA Bobde, CDS Bipin Rawat were also present