Monday, October 13, 2014

Modi's US Visit - an analysis

The Indian Prime Minister was in NY last month to attend the UN General Assembly session. According to published reports he received a raucous reception from some 18,000 American- and Canadian- Indians who had gathered in Madison Square Garden, the famed New York sports arena. It is not difficult to assume that they supported his Hindutvadi agenda. Many in the audience wore T-shirts bearing Modi’s image, waved it on posters, and chanted his name “Modi, Modi, Modi” in unison, like a mantra, drowning out the announcer’s attempt to introduce him.
“It’s starting to sound like a campaign rally,” Hari Sreenivasan, a PBS anchor who was acting as M.C. of the festivities, remarked about the chants before Mr. Modi arrived.
The crowd was shown a video that showed Modi’s rise to power from the chief minister of Gujarat to prime minister of India: Modi praying, Modi bowing, Modi speaking, Modi saluting. “Minimum government, maximum governance,” the words on-screen read, quoting one of Modi’s many mottos. Another screen-shot read: “Red carpet, not red tape, to foster growth.”
Narendra Modi spoke in Hindi, which is the language he is comfortable in. He modulated his voice carefully and used body language to present the picture of an assertive, confident leader calling on his mesmerized audience to “join hands to serve our mother India” towards developing his country’s economy. He vowed that under his leadership India wouldn’t look back. He announced plans to simplify the immigration bureaucracy for Indians living abroad so that they could return and invest.
Accompanying the Indian crowd were 30 U.S. lawmakers that included New Jersey Democrat and Senate Foreign Relations Committee chair Senator Bob Menendez – long known for his anti-Muslim hawkish agenda in the Senate. Along with him were over three dozen congressional colleagues, and also the Indian-American Republican governor of South Carolina, Nikki Haley.
Modi’s visit to the USA was a triumphal one, by any measure. It showed how time has changed! Modi was once a person non-grata in the USA who was denied a US visa in 2005 under the terms of a 1998 US law that bars entry to foreigners who have committed “particularly severe violations of religious freedom”. And now as the elected prime minister of the largest ‘illiberal democracy’ in the world, he’s treated as a Bollywood-like celebrity in Hollywood’s motherland.
In diplomacy, morality – which the US government never seemed to have – had to be shelved for selfish political expediency! Modi’s past sins were all forgotten and forgiven, as if, in amnesia.
Several hundred anti-Modi protesters, mostly Americans of Indian descent, both Hindu and Muslim, gathered across the street from Madison Square Garden, protesting the prime minister’s handling of the anti-Muslim pogrom that erupted in Gujarat in 2002 when he was the chief minister of the state of Gujarat. They chanted behind police barricades, “Modi, Modi, you can’t hide, you committed genocide!”
In New York Modi met many CEOs enticing them to invest in India. He then visited Washington DC for his scheduled meeting with President Obama. On Monday evening, on the eve of Tuesday’s (September 30) official meeting, Obama hosted Modi for a private working dinner at the White House — despite the fact that Indian leader, a devout Hindu, was fasting. He greeted Modi in Gujarati (“Kem cho, Mr Prime Minister?”) on the portals of the White House.
Typically, visiting heads of state spend just a portion of a day at the White House meeting with the president and other U.S. leaders. The rare second day of attention from Obama underscored the White House’s desire to give a warm welcome to a man once barred from even entering the U.S.
During their Oval Office meeting on Tuesday, the US President affirmed that India meets the requirements and is ready for membership of the Nuclear Suppliers Group and the Missile Technology Control Regime. They also agreed to press forward on UN reforms to pave way for India’s membership of the Security Council. They also agreed to extend the framework agreement of defense between the two countries for a further ten years.
As noted in an Indian daily, there were a score of deliverables that will touch the life of every urban Indian. They include an agreement for the US to partner India in developing three smart cities: Allahabad, Ajmer, and Vishakapatnam; US help in upgrading Water, Sanitation, and Health in 500 Indian cities under a program titled WASH; US help in developing smart energy initiatives such as intelligent street lighting and rooftop renewables in numerous Indian cities; and a program under which 1000 American teachers will teach short-term in Indian universities. The US will also set up a new IIT.
Following their Oval Office meeting, Obama and Modi traveled together on Tuesday afternoon to the Martin Luther King, Jr. memorial on the National Mall, just a few blocks from the White House, in an unscripted gesture of togetherness.
The two men wrote in a joint editorial in the Washington Post in yet another expression of togetherness: “The true potential of our relationship has yet to be fully realized. The advent of a new government in India is a natural opportunity to broaden and deepen our relationship. With a reinvigorated level of ambition and greater confidence, we can go beyond modest and conventional goals. It is time to set a new agenda, one that realizes concrete benefits for our citizens.” “While our shared efforts will benefit our own people, our partnership aspires to be larger than merely the sum of its parts. As nations, as people, we aspire to a better future for all; one in which our strategic partnership also produces benefits for the world at large,” they said, concluding their op-ed with the new catch phrase that headlined their vision statement: “Chalein Saath Saath.”
Well, that sums up Modi’s first visit to the USA in over a decade. No Indian Prime Minister before him has ever been honored so well. However, not everything went well for him.
A US court has ordered Prime Minister Narendra Modi to answer allegations that he failed to stop the communal riots in Gujarat in 2002. The petitioner in the case is the American Justice Center, a non-profit human rights organization, acting on behalf of two survivors of the 2002 riots in Gujarat: one is a Muslim woman whose mother was attacked by a mob during the riots and died of her injuries a year later, according to the court documents; the other plaintiff is a man whose grandmother was killed and who said he was attacked by a gang of Hindus. When he approached the police, they told him they had orders not to save any Muslims, according to the petition.
Modi was serving his first term as Chief Minister of his home state when the riots erupted. Nearly 2,000 people were killed, most of them Muslims.
The civil case before a New York court seeks compensatory and punitive damages from Mr Modi for “crimes against humanity” and extrajudicial killings under the Alien Tort Claims Act and the Torture Victim Protection Act. “There is evidence to support the conclusion that minister Modi committed both acts of intentional and malicious direction to authorities in India to kill and maim innocent persons of the Muslim faith,” the petition said.
Another group, the Sikhs for Justice, decided to convene a ‘Citizen’s Court’ where they indicted Modi at a park in front of the White House when he met Obama.
It should, however, be noted that as a serving prime minister, Modi don’t have to appear before the US court. And he did not appear in the court to defend himself. With the cozy relationship between the USA and India, the petitioners may never see justice.
As one who had the opportunity of reviewing the Gujarat pogroms, I don’t entertain any positive impression about Modi, and consider him a mass murderer, who could have stopped the anti-Muslim pogroms in his state if he desired to do so, but he did not. Modi espouses Hindutva, a fascist ideology where non-Hindus have no place unless, of course, they become Hindus. His election win has only emboldened such divisive forces within a country of 1.25 billion.
As a sad reminder to the fires of hatred that Modi and his party BJP have rekindled in India, esp. in his native state of Gujarat, during his visit to the USA last month, communal clashes erupted in Vadodara, a major city in the state which is about 75 miles from Ahmedabad. Modi, who was Chief Minister of Gujarat till he was elected to the country’s top job, contested and won Vadodara in the national election in May, but gave up the seat later, choosing to represent the holy Hindu city of Varanasi in the country’s north in Parliament. His party, the BJP, won the Vadodara by-election recently.
According to the Reuters, the riots reportedly flared up after an image, perceived as being offensive to Islam, was shared on Facebook and WhatsApp. The clashes began late Thursday, at the time of a major religious Hindu festival being celebrated across the country. Hindu groups had sought to bar Muslims and other religious minorities from taking part in the festivities.
“The idea of banning Muslims from Hindu festivals has upset the minority but we are determined to keep the celebrations open to all,” E. Radhakrishnan, the city’s police commissioner said, according to Reuters.
Over a dozen people got injured in the clash, one of them in a case of stabbing. Gujarat’s government deployed riot police to control the clashes over the weekend and appealed to religious leaders to intervene to curb them. Mobile telephone Internet and bulk text messaging were also temporarily suspended as a precautionary step.
Over 200 people from both the communities were arrested. DJ Patel, additional commissioner of Vadodara police, said, “The man, a teacher, who posted the controversial message on WhatsApp has also been arrested.”
Last week, tensions between India and Pakistan flared up along a 200-km (125-mile) stretch of border in mostly Muslim Kashmir. The two sides exchanged fires, the worst skirmishes between the nuclear-armed rivals in more than a decade. Nine Pakistani and eight Indian civilians got killed. Fighting paused on Friday after days of heavy shelling and gun battles. “War is not an option,” Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s office said in a statement after chairing a Pakistan’s National Security Committee meeting. “It is shared responsibility of the leadership of both countries to immediately defuse the situation,” it said.
Since 1947, the two nations have fought each other in three wars, two over Kashmir. There has not been a full-blown war since they both tested nuclear weapons in 1998.
So, why now? Has Modi’s recent visit to the USA emboldened him to go on the offensive? We don’t know the answer yet but won’t be too surprised to later find the connection.

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