New Delhi: Almost a month after an Indian national on a H1B visa was killed in a suspected hate crime in the US, Indian foreign minister Sushma Swaraj Monday said India’s first priority was the safety of Indian citizens in the US, with the strategic partnership with the US being a priority of a secondary nature.
Swaraj was speaking in Parliament and her comments came amid a spike in attacks on Indian nationals and people of Indian origin in the US.
In remarks to members in the upper house of Parliament, or the Rajya Sabha, Swaraj said: “Strategic partnership (with the US) is secondary... The safety of our people is our top priority.” The minister was responding to concerns flagged by MPs after she made a statement on recent incidents of attacks in the US.
Swaraj’s comments come almost a month after the death of Indian engineer Srinivas Kuchibhotla, 32, who was shot dead in Kansas while another Indian Alok Madasani was injured in the incident. Earlier this month, a US national of Indian origin, Harnish Patel, was shot dead near his house in South Carolina by unknown attackers. Two days later, another US national of Indian origin was shot near Seattle after being asked to leave the country.
The killings triggered anger in India with people from many quarters voicing concern at US President Donald Trump’s “America First” policy on immigration and jobs, which was seen to have fuelled intolerance in the country.
Responding to questions raised by members, Swaraj said the government did not view these attacks as a law and order matter. “We don’t think it’s a law and order issue. It’s not simple as that. While Kuchibhotla’s case is being investigated as a hate crime, we are saying probe the other two cases also as hate crimes. We are not treating it as law and order issue.”
Swaraj said that the attacks were condemned by the US administration and the US Congress. India had taken up the issue with the US government at the highest level and conveyed deep concerns over the recent developments, she said.
“We have called for necessary measures to ensure the safety and security if Indian diaspora and expeditious investigation into these incidents,” the minister said. She added that foreign secretary S. Jaishankar had discussed the matter with senior US administration members as well as officials during his recent visit to the US from 28 February to 3 March.
Ties between India and the US have warmed considerably since the year 2000 with four presidential visits in 15 years, more than the number in the preceding decades since India’s independence from British rule in 1947. India and the US share a strategic partnership, a far cry from the days the two countries were seen as “estranged democracies” and on opposite sides during the Cold War years when India was seen as closer to the Soviet Union.