(Bloomberg) -- The top U.S. diplomat for South Asia said India’s newly re-elected Hindu nationalist administration should quickly condemn religious violence and hold extremists accountable.
The U.S. will "continue to highlight the importance of preserving a diverse and inclusive society" in its diplomatic engagement with India, said Alice Wells, the U.S. State Department’s acting assistant secretary for South and Central Asian affairs, in a prepared statement before her testimony to Congress on Thursday.
Her remarks to the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee for Asia, the Pacific and Nonproliferation will come less than a month after the reelection of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. His Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party triumphed after appealing to India’s Hindu majority with a potent mix of nationalism, religion and welfare policies. The party fielded as a candidate -- and later defended -- a self-styled Hindu holy woman facing charges related to a bomb blast in a Muslim neighborhood that killed six people and injured 100.
"We look to India’s democratically elected leaders and institutions to swiftly condemn acts of violence on the basis of religion and hold perpetrators accountable," Wells said in her remarks. "This will help further India’s security and economic interests and strengthen our bilateral relationship."
In February, a Human Rights Watch report highlighted a spate of attacks on Muslim citizens by Hindu nationalist vigilante groups, whose actions were sometimes defended by members of the ruling BJP. Spokesmen for Modi’s party have previously said incidents of religious violence are not unique to BJP rule and also happened under previous governments led by the Congress party.
In her comments, Wells also said India’s tariff and non-tariff barriers have been "the subject of longstanding concern," but noted Washington was committed to deepening economic, defense and strategic ties with New Delhi.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is due to visit India later this month and said in a broadly positive speech on Wednesday in Washington he would also "broach some tough topics" on his upcoming trip.
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