Friendship with Modi based on shared interest in ‘non-sectarian’: Gabbard

As tweets and statements poured congratulating Prime Minister Narendra Modi, one US lawmaker was noticeably quiet; no public comments, no social media posts.

Representative Tulsi Gabbard, the first Hindu elected to US congress and long considered close to Modi, has congratulated the prime minister privately, it turns out, and plans to issue a formal public comment after his inauguration.

In remarks provided to Hindustan Times by her campaign, the congresswoman said she looks forward to “work closely with the newly elected Prime Minister Modi” but went on to offer an explanation, perhaps for the first time in such details, of their “friendly relationship”, saying it is based “to a large extent” on their shared interest in yoga and meditation, which, she added, were “non-sectarian, very inclusivist path” to spiritual, mental and spiritual well-being.

Her public silence stood in sharp contrast to the outpouring of congratulatory tweets and statements from President Donald Trump — two tweets and a phone call; vice-president Mike Pence, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, the first daughter and adviser Ivanka Trump, over 40 US lawmakers from both parties and state and local level officials and lawmakers.

The congresswoman told Hindustan Times, “I look forward to continuing to work closely with the newly re-elected Prime Minister Modi, who I have had a positive relationship with now for several years, and I’m confident that our relationship will continue to be so as we each work for the well-being of the American and Indian people respectively.

“My friendly relationship with Prime Minister Modi is, to a large extent, connected to our mutual interest in yoga and meditation as a non-sectarian, very inclusivist path to physical, mental, and spiritual well-being. It is the strong yoga-based connection that I value very much.”

And she stressed on the need for India and the United States, as the largest and oldest democracies respectively, to work together on the leading issues of the times such as climate, nuclear proliferation and “improving the economic well-being of all of our citizens, as well as protecting individual’s freedoms and rights, including the freedom of speech and freedom of religion, without which no country can claim to be democratic”

Gabbard has been an outspoken supporter of US ties with India, has been co-chair of the House India Caucus, an informal organization of members of the House of Representatives; has visited India, and the prime minister sent her personal gifts through a senior party functionary on her wedding.

But she has faced questions, specially after she announced her run for the Democratic presidential nomination, about her close ties to Modi, the BJP and Hindu Americans. She complained in a signed article in January that she has been accused of being a “Hindu nationalist”.

But she has also tried to address them. In May, she told The Intercept news publication, in response to a question if she believes the Indian government persecutes Muslims and other minorities, “There are things that are happening within the Indian government that I disagree with. I don’t pretend to support or approve or endorse all the practices of the ruling party in India.”

First Published:
May 29, 2019 22:19 IST

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