Shortly before Prime Minister Narendra Modi arrived in Paris on a State visit, in another French city, Strasbourg, the European Parliament (EP) called on the government to act “promptly” to halt the violence in Manipur and protect religious minorities. The resolution passed by a show of hands on Thursday after a debate on the issue on Wednesday evening.
The government had rejected the move, with Foreign Secretary Vinay Kwatra saying on Wednesday that the Manipur situation was “wholly and totally internal” to India. Over 142 people have been killed and 54,000 displaced so far.
The final EP resolution asks the government “to protect all religious minorities, such as Manipur’s Christian community, and to pre-empt any further escalation”. It also calls on authorities to grant unhindered access to the area by journalists and international observers and to end internet shutdowns.
The EP resolution also asked the government “to repeal the unlawful Armed Forces Special Powers Act in line with the recommendations of the UN Universal Periodic Review”.
Through the resolution, Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) called on the E.U. to make human rights prominent in its dialogue and relationship with India — a point that was repeatedly raised during the pre-vote debate. The process brought together an unlikely mix of left and right parties which also approved two other resolutions on rights in Venezuela and Kyrgyzstan.
During the debate, MEPs voiced concern not just around Manipur and its minorities but about India as a whole.
One MEP, Pierre Larratourou (Group of the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats), criticised Mr. Modi and the government’s policies since 2014.
“They have to accept democratic functioning no longer criminalise anyone who criticises government policy,” Mr. Larratourou said, adding that the European Parliament has to demand that respect for human rights is “fully included” in E.U.- India partnership, including trade.
E.U. leaders in India have to talk about human rights publicly and systemically, Mr. Larratourou said.
“Nobody is proposing breaking off relations with India. It is a great democracy, but it has to be a better democracy,” he added.
“We wouldn’t like to wag fingers at anybody from here with this resolution from the European Parliament,” said MEP Sven Simon, a Christian Democrat (Group of the European People’s Party).
“We call on the most populous democracy to do what it is duty bound to do in its constitution, to maintain religious freedom – also for Christians in Manipur,” he added.
Mr. Simon said he was irritated by the fact that MEPs from the left, and the Greens, found it difficult to say that it was Christians who are affected.
“The goal must be to end this violence and to bring about a peaceful resolution for the situation in Manipur,” said Finnish MEP, Alviina Alametsa (Group of the Greens/ European Free Alliance). She echoed the concerns of her colleagues about the shrinking space for free expression in India.
“Freedom of press has narrowed,” she said. “Journalists and activists have been arrested for false reasons, discrimination and hate have increased. And this is also what I saw personally when I visited India in December,” she added, as she also called for human rights and democracy to be at the core of India-EU relations, including in the trading relationship.