All democracies around the world are a “work in progress” and they each face their own challenges, United States’ Secretary of State Antony Blinken said at a press conference in Delhi on Wednesday, ANI reported. Blinken was speaking to the media after a meeting with civil society groups.
In his first engagement during his day-long visit to India, Blinken discussed matters like inter-religious relations, freedom of the press, farmers’ protests, anti-conversion laws and minority rights, according to The Hindu.
“Our quest is to get closer to the ideals [of democracy] we set for ourselves,” Blinken said at the press conference. “At times, the challenge is painful and ugly...but as democracies, we do it openly.”
Blinken acknowledged that the United States has also faced challenges in this regard and stressed upon the need for talks with India to “renew and strengthen” the two democracies. “Humbly we can learn from each other,” he said. “No democracy, regardless of how old or large, has it all figured out.”
During the 45-minute meeting, Blinken reportedly also discussed the arrests of journalists in India and the allegations related to surveillance by the use of Pegasus spyware. They also discussed the contentious agricultural legislations, the Citizenship Amendment Act and anti-conversion laws in many states, The Hindu reported.
Constitutional lawyer Menaka Guruswamy, Inter-Faith Foundation founder Khwaja Iftikhar Ahmed and representatives of the Ramakrishna Mission, as well as representatives of Baha’i, Sikh and Christian organisations, were present at the meeting.
Geshe Dorji Damdul, the Delhi-based director of Tibet House was also present at the round-table as a representative of the Dalai Lama.
The US Embassy, has however, declined to comment officially on the discussion.
Later on Wednesday, Blinken also met External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar in Delhi. Their meeting focused on Covid-19 recovery, engagements in the Indo-Pacific region and the situation in Afghanistan, the external affairs ministry said in an official release.
Jaishankar said at the meeting that prosperity of the Indo-Pacific region was as important to US and India as stability in Afghanistan, ANI reported. Meanwhile, Blinken said US President Joe Biden was determined to strengthen the country’s ties with India.
“There isn’t a challenge that doesn’t have impact on lives of our citizens whether it’s Covid, disruptive impact of emerging technologies, that can be addressed by any one of us acting alone,” he said. “There’s greater imperative on cooperation among countries than ever before.”
Blinken is also scheduled to meet Prime Minister Narendra Modi and National Security Advisor Ajit Doval during the day. He arrived in Delhi on Tuesday. This is his first visit to India since becoming the state secretary of the Joe Biden-led administration.
Ahead of Blinken’s visit, US said that it had a strong strategic partnership with India, “founded on shared values and a commitment to a free and open Indo-Pacific region”.
“The United States supports India’s emergence as a leading global power and vital partner in efforts to ensure that the Indo-Pacific is a region of peace, stability, and growing prosperity and economic inclusion,” it added.