India has 'free press' and is 'openly' debating CAA: US State Department

The country is witnessing widespread protests against the amended law demanding its withdrawal.

Washington: Asserting that India is a vibrant democracy that has free press, US State Department acknowledged that New Delhi is 'openly and publicly' debating the Citizenship Amendment Act.

Speaking to ANI, US State Department Spokesperson US State Department Spokesperson Morgan Ortagus on Wednesday said, "India has a free press. India has a vibrant democracy. India has the ability for the court system to review all legislations. So, what you are saying and what we are observing is that a vibrant democracy that is debating and that is discussing this bill. First and foremost, you don't have that kind of conversation in most countries. The fact is that the world's largest democracy is debating so openly and publicly."

The CAA seeks to grant Indian citizenship to refugees from Hindu, Christian, Sikh, Buddhist and Parsi communities fleeing religious persecution from Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Bangladesh, and who entered India on or before December 31, 2014.

The Bill in this regard was presented in the Parliament by Home Minister Amit Shah and it was passed from both the houses--Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha. It becomes a law following President Ram Nath Kovind's assent.

Since then, the country is witnessing widespread protests against the amended law demanding its withdrawal.

Leaders of several opposition parties had met President Kovind on Tuesday urging him to advise the government to withdraw the law.

Meanwhile, the Supreme Court refused to stay the implementation of the Citizenship (Amendment) Act 2019 and issued a notice to the Central government on a batch of petitions challenging its constitutional validity.

However, Shah has ruled out the withdrawal of the CAA with the government repeatedly saying that the law does not affect any Indian citizen.

Speaking about the US and India 2+2 dialogue which was held on Wednesday, Ortagus said the dialogue shows the significance of the bilateral relationship between the two countries.

During the meeting, Minister of External Affairs S Jaishankar and Minister of Defence Rajnath Singh held extensive talks with Secretary of State Michael Pompeo and Secretary of Defense Mark Esper.

India and the United States discussed issues like counter-terrorism, economics, trade, and security.

"It is important to note that it is only the second time we have had this 2+2 dialogue between the United States and India. It is the first time that it is being held in Washington. We have a very few of these around the world. I mean this shows the significance of the US bilateral relationship with India. India is incredibly important to us," Ortagus said.

"We have a number of issues as it relates to counter-terrorism, economics, trade, security and then what's most important is that the world's oldest and the world's largest democracies talk on a range of these issues," she further said.

Asserting that peace in Afghanistan can only be achieved through partnership with countries like India, Ortagus said, "Another area we are working closely on is Afghanistan. The only way we will get to peace in Afghanistan is through partnerships with countries like India and the region to help us bring all people on the table. We talked about counter-terrorism and we talked about Afghanistan and the ongoing efforts there."

"When you have such an important relationship, it gives us the ability to talk about all major challenges in the world whether it is China, Russia or North Korea. India is a very, very important friend to the United States, someone that we lean upon in helping us solve these big problems," she added.

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