Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman lashed out at the U.S. think tank Freedom House — which has downgraded India's status from "free" to "partly free" — accusing the body of not even getting the "Indian map" correct. The Information and Broadcasting Ministry on behalf of the government also issued a statement calling the report "misleading, incorrect and misplaced".
Speaking to reporters at an interaction in Indian Women's Press Corps on Friday, Ms. Sitharaman said, "I am concerned about a group which does not get the Indian map correct. And this body as per its website says it is an independent body. It doesn’t have the wherewithal to understand what is the sovereign territorial map of India and in a country as diverse as India they have gone into freedom of religion and everything," she said.
She asserted that ancient religions have co-existed without "cleansing" and an institution which can't get the Indian map right, perhaps is not in the position to understand the multicultural ethos of the country.
"How do I take you seriously on matters which are so intrinsic in a multi-diverse country, where religions of ancient days have lived together for centuries without any kind of cleansing. Get my map straight and then get your act to talk about my country and its freedoms," Ms. Sitharaman said.
The Information and Broadcasting Ministry, in a statement said, that the think tanks's "Democracy under siege" is misleading, incorrect and misplaced. The statement pointed out that there are many States, which have non-BJP governments, elected through a free and fair process.
In a point-by-point rebuttal, the Ministry denied any charge on "discriminatory policies against Muslims". The government of India, it said treats all its citizens equally as per the Constitution. On the specific instance of the riots in North East Delhi, during former U.S. President Donald Trump's visit, it said, "with specific reference to the North East Delhi riots in January 2019, the law enforcement machinery acted swiftly in an impartial and fair manner."
Onus on States
The Ministry statement ducked the charge made by Freedom House on increased use of the sedition law, by throwing the ball in the State governments' court. The Ministry said 'PublicOrder' and 'Police' are State subjects under India's federal structure of governance and the responsibility of maintaining law and order, including investigation, registration and prosecution of crimes, protection of life and property, etc. rests primarily with the concerned State governments.
"Therefore, measures as deemed fit are taken by law enforcement authorities to preserve public order," the statement said. The report accused the government for deterioration in political rights and civil liberties, especially since the second tenure of the Modi government. The government specifically responding to the human rights violations, gave a laundry list of available human right laws and institutions such as the National Human Rights Commission, in the statement. And it completely rejected the charge about intimidation of academics and journalists.
"Discussion, debate and dissent is part of Indian democracy. The Government of India attaches highest importance to the safety and security of all residents of the country, including journalists," the statement said. The Internet shutdowns, the Ministry said, were only temporary.
The government has instead claimed that "freezing of Amnesty International's assets" has led to this decline in ranking. The statement said that Amnesty International had received permission under Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Act only in 2000. Since then, despite their many applications, they were denied FCRA approval by successive governments because they are not eligible.
"However, to circumvent the FCRA regulations, Amnesty U.K. remitted large amounts of money to four entities registered in India, by misclassifying the remittance as Foreign Direct Investment (FDI)," the statement said. This "malafide rerouting" of money was in contravention of the law, and led to freezing of the organization’s assets, the statement said.
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