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Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez To Rashida Tlaib, US Politicians Boycott PM Modi's Address To Congress

Two Muslim Congresswomen from the US Democratic Party — Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib —  announced their decision to boycott Prime Minister Narendra Modi's speech at the joint session of the US Congress on Thursday

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Prime Minister Narendra Modi and First Lady Jill Biden
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While elaborate preparations are being made for Prime Minister Narendra Modi's address to the joint session of US Senate and House, several members of the US Democratic party have announced that they would be boycotting the speech as "Modi's government has targeted Muslims and religious minorities". The latest to join the boycott is Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

On PM Modi's schedule is a State Dinner being hosted by US President Joe Biden and First Lady Jill Biden on Thursday, at the South Lawn of the White House, which is expected to be attended by 400 guests. Prime Minister Modi's visit also includes an address by him to the joint session of the US Congress.

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Who will be boycotting the address?

Two Muslim Congresswomen from the US Democratic Party — Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib —  announced their decision to boycott Prime Minister Narendra Modi's speech at the joint session of the US Congress on Thursday, saying that the ‘Modi government has repressed religious minorities’.

“Prime Minister Modi’s government has repressed religious minorities, emboldened violent Hindu nationalist groups, and targeted journalists/human rights advocates with impunity. I will NOT be attending Modi’s speech," Ilhan Omar said. 

Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib also wrote that it is "shameful" that PM Modi is being given a platform in Washington. “It’s shameful that Modi has been given a platform at our nation’s capital—his long history of human rights abuses, anti-democratic actions, targeting Muslims & religious minorities, and censoring journalists is unacceptable. I will be boycotting Modi’s joint address to Congress," she said.

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Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, also known by her initials AOC, announced that she would be joining her fellow progressives to boycott the speech. “I encourage my colleagues who stand for pluralism, tolerance, and freedom of the press to join me in doing the same,” the New York Democrat wrote on Twitter on Wednesday.

Arguing that a joint address is the most prestigious invitations and honours the US Congress can extend, she said that it should not do so for individuals with "deeply troubling human rights records". 

She highlighted Modi’s previous ban from entering the US "because of his violations of religious freedom, including his complicity in an anti-Muslim riot that left over 1,000 dead". "India currently ranks 161 out of 180 in the Press Freedom Index - in part due to Modi's raids on BBC India's offices and his court challenges against a critical documentary. Additionally, a report from the US Holocaust Museum found that India is at high risk for mass killings..." she said in a statement. 

Earlier on Wednesday, Bernie Sanders had urged President Joe Biden to raise issues in his meeting with PM Modi. 

“Prime Minister Modi’s government has cracked down on the press and civil society, jailed political opponents, and pushed an aggressive Hindu nationalism that leaves little space for India’s religious minorities. President Biden should raise these facts in his meeting with Modi,” Sanders tweeted.

It remains unclear if Sanders will attend Modi’s speech.

Alongside, as many as 75 Democratic senators and members of the House of Representatives sent a letter to US President Joe Biden and asked him to raise human rights issues with PM Modi, according to a report published by Hindustan Times. 

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"We do not endorse any particular Indian leader or political party — that is the decision of the people of India — but we do stand in support of the important principles that should be a core part of American foreign policy," the letter read. 

Indian American members of Congress

However, TIME reported that five Indian American members of Congress -- Ami Bera of California, Pramila Jayapal of Washington, Ro Khanna of California, Raja Krishnamoorthi of Illinois, and Shri Thanedar of Michigan -- will be in attendance for the address amid calls of boycott. 

Reacting to the calls of boycott, former vice chairman of the National Commission for Minorities, Atif Rasheed said, “I belong to a religious Minority Of India but I live freely with my religious freedom and religious identity in Prime Minister Narendra Modi's India, I have equal share in every resource here, I have the freedom to speak whatever I want in India."

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“I also have the freedom to write what I want in India. I am sorry to say You are showing the wrong picture of My India under your hate agenda. Stop spitting poison out of your mouth," he added. 

Prime Minister Narendra Modi and President Joe Biden will have a one-on-one meeting in the Oval Office of the White House on Thursday before holding high-level talks to further boost the growing Indo-US strategic relations in areas like defence, space and critical technologies.

Prime Minister Modi has said that his visit to Washington and talks with President Biden will be an "opportunity to enrich the depth and diversity of our partnership."

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