WASHINGTON—Representative Eliot L. Engel, Ranking Member of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, today made the following statement on U.S.-India relations at a full Committee hearing this morning:
“Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Thank you for calling this hearing today. I’ve welcomed the chance to speak with you about Compassion International’s recent struggles in India and I know this is an issue close to your heart. As you know, I share your concern about challenges some NGOs are facing in India. My staff and I have tried to assist in resolving this situation and, and I hope following, following this hearing we can find a way forward on this issue. And I’m grateful as always for your leadership.
“To our witnesses: welcome to the Foreign Affairs Committee. We’re grateful for your time and expertise.
“More than 20 years ago, I was one of a handful of Members of Congress who founded the Caucus on India and Indian-Americans. At that time, the U.S. relationship with India focused more on what our two countries couldn’t do together rather than what we could do together. Today, in my view, the U.S. relationship with India is one of our most important, driven by our shared interests and shared values.
“We’ve made progress in so many areas. India now participates in more military exercises with the United States than with any country in the world. Once a sticking point between our governments, nuclear cooperation has become the lynchpin of the renewed U.S. India partnership. On climate change, India has already ratified the Paris agreement. Two-way trade between India and the United States continues to expand, supporting thousands of American jobs, and has nearly tripled from $36 billion in 2005 to over $107 billion in 2, 2015. India’s ‘Look East, Act East’ strategy to expand economic engagement in Asia aligns closely with our own Asia rebalance.
“The list goes on and on. From space exploration, to shared concerns in the Indian Ocean region, to economic growth, we’re collaborating on more issues than ever before.
“Much of this progress is due to our people-to-people ties, rooted in the three-million-strong Indian-American community. Thanks to their advocacy and the hard work of dedicated leaders of all political ideologies in both countries, the United States and India are now closer than ever before.
“But this doesn’t mean that the United States and India will agree on everything. And when we don’t see eye to eye, we need to have honest discussions and work toward good solutions. And that is why we’re doing this hearing today, on the NGOs and other things involved in the U.S.-India relationship.”
“I discussed earlier the importance of the values that United States and India both share. This goes beyond the cliché of being the world’s oldest and largest democracies. We embrace our traditions of political freedoms, of free and fair elections, and of a vibrant, vocal civil society.”
“The United States nor India, neither one of us are strangers to contentious political debate. Our recent elections are a great example of that, and India has a long, rich tradition of raucous political campaigns. That free debate is a cornerstone of democracy.
“So I was concerned by reports earlier this year that a college student—a student-body president—was arrested for making what was deemed ‘antinational’ statements. College campuses have long been a hotbed of political activism. And whether we find this activity agreeable or objectionable, as democracies, we need to protect the right of free expression and free assembly. Again, I know the Chairman is very concerned about that as well.
“I’ve been concerned by reports that NGOs are having difficulty registering and operating in India. Civil society plays a pivotal role in democracy, holding government accountable and standing up for the rights of marginalized groups. So it’s troubling that a country with such a long tradition of an empowered and active civil society might be going down this path.
“We cannot avoid the hard questions or avoid discussions simply because they are difficult conversations to have. This is how democracies work, warts and all.
“So I look forward to hearing from our witnesses today about all of these issues: the tremendous progress and potential in the U.S.-India relationship, but also in areas like international child abduction, where there’s still a lot of work to be done.
“If we stay committed to deepening this friendship further, if we think long-term while working to meet day-to-day challenges, then this relationship will help both our countries become stronger and more prosperous, and will become one of the defining partnerships of the 21st century.
“Thank you and I look forward to your testimony. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.”