The legislative process in the United States Congress on the bill tabled by Congressman Frank Wolf and co-sponsored by Representative Anna Eshoo from California promises to be a fateful happening for the ‘defining partnership’ between US and India. It is titled as ‘To provide for the establishment of the Special Envoy to Promote Freedom of Religious Minorities in the Near East and South Central Asia’. A hearing has been already held by the House of Representatives although the Indian media hasn’t yet apparently caught on what is unfolding on the Hill.
The bill has bipartisan support, especially from Christian Conservatives, and there is strong likelihood of it becoming law. India is specifically mentioned as one of the countries where the US will closely monitor the plight of the minorities. The bill demands the creation of the post of a special envoy in the State Department specifically to monitor countries like India. Pakistan has been included in the scope of the bill along with India, but China is not — although Beijing has been openly defying the Vatican’s right to control the appointment of Church functionaries in China.
As the text of the bill envisages, the proposed US special envoy is expected to: a) “promote the right of religious freedom of religious minorities” and recommend “appropriate responses” by Washington to instances of violation of the rights; b) “monitor and combat acts of religious intolerance and incitement targetted against religious minorities”; c) “work to ensure the unique needs of religious minority communities… including the economic and security needs of these communities”; d) work with Indian NGOs and take up with the GOI any Indian laws that are “inherently discriminatory” to minorities; and, e) raise the issues on the multilateral fora, including the UN and the OSCE.
1 million dollars will be allocated annually to facilitate the work of the special envoy in undertaking activities such as conducting investigations. The bill says: “The Special Envoy should be a person of recognised distinction in the fields of human rights and religious freedom who shall have the rank of ambassador and shall hold office at the pleasure of the President.” It seems the Barack Obama administration may already be having a nominee in mind.
From all appearances, the law would be geared in the Indian context to bring under the scanner the working of the Sangh Parivar organisations which have often been implicated in violence against minorities. Most certainly, the latest moves by public organisations in the US to monitor the activities of the Sangh Privar outfits in America now assume even greater significance.