America may want to use India as part of the Asian bulwark against China, but in the process, it is inadvertently exposing its atrocities, past and present

by Alex Lo

While the top diplomats of China and the United States were sniping at each other in Anchorage, US defence chief Lloyd Austin made a lower-profile visit to India. As Indian farmers continue with their months-long protest, and New Delhi with its crackdown, Austin praises the country’s growing ties with “like-minded partners” in the region to contain the China threat.

Part of this containment strategy is to air incessantly the dirty laundry of China, and to sanitise that of America and of its ally. In any case, India, usually billed as the world’s largest democracy (in terms of population), has always been given a free pass by the Western media when it comes to atrocious behaviour, whether domestically or internationally.

Now it’s especially important for Washington to keep India happy. After all, the “pivot to Asia” means expanding from Asia-Pacific to “Indo-Pacific”, with the Indian Ocean being India’s front yard.

New Delhi’s crackdowns against farmers’ protests, and some of their supporters and journalists who report on them, have a greater subtext. Justified or not, the farmers are against reform laws that aim to liberalise the agricultural sector. Many of them are Punjabi Sikhs, and they never forget state-sponsored atrocities committed against their parents and grandparents in the mid-1980s, when they were also agitating to protect their own farming interests, along with demands for autonomy.

Exactly five years before Tiananmen, during the first week of June in 1984, the Indian military raided the Harmandir Sahib (Golden Temple) in Amritsar, Punjab, where top Sikh leaders were holed up. The operation resulted in deaths that ranged in estimates from hundreds to many thousands.

After Indira Gandhi was assassinated by her two Sikh bodyguards in November, Hindu-sponsored pogroms, official crackdowns and extrajudicial killings resulted in tens of thousands of deaths over many years. However, most Hong Kong and American people can’t locate the state of Punjab on an Indian map. The global media have a way of teaching people about some atrocities but not others.

When Prime Minister Narendra Modi was the chief minister of the state of Gujarat, in 2002, he presided over genocidal violence against the minority Muslim population. The “Butcher of Gujarat” was banned from entering the US, the only person ever so sanctioned under an obscure religious freedom law. His current crackdown against Muslim-majority areas in Kashmir should surprise no one.

Now he is Washington’s best friend. That’s America’s value-based foreign policy.