New Delhi: With a 330-99 vote, the US House of Representatives agreed to adopt Indian-American Congressman Ro Khanna’s amendment Thursday, calling for an India-specific waiver under the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA).
CAATSA imposes sanctions on countries which do trade, especially military trade, with countries such as Iran, North Korea, and Russia, considered as “adversary” under the law that was passed in 2017.
Washington has not yet stated whether it will apply or waive sanctions on India over New Delhi’s purchase of S-400 missiles from Russia in 2018.
“My bipartisan NDAA amendment marks the most significant piece of legislation for US-India relations out of Congress, since the US-India nuclear deal,” Khanna said a day after the vote.
Out of the 99 politicians who voted against the “en bloc” amendment, five were Democrats. These included Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, Rashida Tlaib of Michigan, Jamaal Bowman of New York and Cori Bush of Missouri.
All are part of the six-member left-wing section of the Democratic Party known as “The Squad”. Incidentally, the sixth member of the group, Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts, voted in favour of the amendment.
The Squad members did not offer specific reasons as to their stance on the amendment.
The amendment is not yet a law — it must first formally be passed in both the House and the Senate for that.
ThePrint explains how “The Squad” was formed and remarks made by its members against the Modi government in recent years.
What is “The Squad”?
“The Squad” is a colloquial term used to describe a group of six left-wing Democrats in the US House of Representatives. It was initially composed of four minority Congresswomen — Ocasio-Cortez, Omar, Pressley and Tlaib. All were elected under the age of 50, were women of colour and represented the diversity of a younger political generation in the US.
The term first came about in November 2018 when Ocasio-Cortez took to Instagram to post a picture of the four women, and captioned it: “Squad”.
Within a year, the nickname had caught on in the media and among political circles. “Someone said, ‘Oh you should do a hashtag or something #squadgoals’ and then it morphed into this thing,” Pressley told CBS in 2019.
The Squad was particularly opposed to the policies of the Trump administration, as underlined when Tlaib called the then president “the biggest bully I’ve ever had to deal with”.
This was in response to the slew of derogatory tweets that Trump had issued against the group in mid-2019.
“Why don’t they go back and help fix the totally broken and crime infested places from which they came. Then come back and show us how,” the former President had tweeted.
In January 2021, Bowman — the first man to join the group — and Bush became part of The Squad upon being elected into the 117th US Congress.
What have ‘Squad’ members said about India
Some Squad members have been particularly critical of the Modi government’s treatment of minorities.
On 22 June, Omar introduced a resolution to designate India as a ‘Country of Particular Concern’ under the International Religious Freedom Act. This was in response to what she viewed as severe human rights violations in India against religious and cultural minorities like Muslims. Such a designation could invite economic sanctions against New Delhi.
Omar had previously irked the Indian government when she made a visit to Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK) in April.
Meanwhile, Ocasio-Cortez has accused the Modi government of “ethnically cleansing the country’s religious minorities”. She made the comments shortly after the Delhi riots took place in February 2020.
Tlaib has criticised the Modi government’s crackdown on protests, citing the agitations against CAA and now-retracted farm laws as examples.
In September 2019, she strongly condemned the Indian government’s decision to scrap special status in J&K, as well as the “communications blockade it has imposed, its suppression of life-saving medical care, and the reports of widespread violence, torture, and other human rights violations…”
“I urge the Indian government to accept responsibility for the human rights violations being carried out in Jammu and Kashmir and hold the responsible parties accountable,” she added.
(Edited by Poulomi Banerjee)