US Secretary of State Antony Blinken flew to New Delhi on Tuesday for his first official visit to India reflecting two nations’ close ties but also noting the democracies were “works in progress”. Later in the day, he is scheduled to meet his counterpart S. Jaishankar, as well as Prime Minister Narendra Modi and India’s National Security Advisor Ajit Doval, where India’s border tensions with China, the growing security crisis in Afghanistan triggered by U.S. troop withdrawal and Covid-19 are likely agendas of meeting.

Today (Wednesday) while addressing a civil society roundtable on the theme “Advancing equitable, inclusive and sustainable growth and development”, Blinken emphasised on the need for both countries to have a vibrant civil society in order to make their democracies more open, inclusive, resilient and equitable. “At a time of rising global threats to democracy and international freedoms – we talk about a democratic recession – it’s vital that we two world leading democracies continue to stand together in support of these ideals,” Blinken said. Adding more he spoke “As I said before, sometimes that process is painful, sometimes it’s ugly, but the strength of democracy is to embrace it.”

The US has spoken out on issues such as the situation in Kashmir and movements such as the farmers’ protest on the outskirts of Delhi. India has mostly been sensitive to such criticism is open to engaging on human rights and democracy with those who recognise the value of diversity. Defending its achievements in human rights and democracy, the Indian side also said both issues extend beyond a “particular national or cultural perspective”. Blinken appreciated India and said India’s achievements include a “free media, independent courts, a vibrant and free and fair electoral system – the largest expression of free political will by citizens anywhere in the world”.

All successful democracies include thriving civil societies, and this ensures citizens become more fully engaged in the life of their communities, Blinken said. “It’s how we organise and provide the resources to respond to emergencies. And we’ve seen people and organisations come together throughout Covid-19 in creative and incredibly generous ways, and civil society is also where we’re able to build meaningful connections across our social, religious, and cultural differences,” he said.

With the intention to support more connections between civil society organisations in India and the US to make the partnership between the two democracies even stronger, he concluded by saying “In short, if we want to make our democracies more open, more inclusive, more resilient, more equitable, we need vibrant civil society.”