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Invitation of Gujarati Chief Minister to NYC Sparks Protest
Date: 11 Mar 2005
Source: NYC Independent Media Center
Author: Tamiko Beyer
URL: http://nyc.indymedia.org/feature/display/1443...

The scheduled appearance of the chief minister of the Indian state of Gujarat, Narendra Modi, at Madison Square Garden on March 20 has sparked calls for protests.

Many South Asian and human rights groups have condemned Modi for his role in anti-Muslim riots in Gujarat three years ago that killed up to 2,000 people and left another 200,000 displaced.

In New York, efforts to block and protest Modi's visit are being coordinated by the newly formed Coalition Against Genocide.

Invitation of Gujarati Chief Minister to U.S. Sparks Protest By Tamiko Beyer

The scheduled visit later this month of Narendra Modi, Chief Minister of the state of Gujarat, India, has generated controversy and outrage among South Asian and other communities in the U.S..

Modi, accused of complicity in massacres that devastated Gujarat in 2002 and of continuing to target religious minorities, has been invited by the Asian American Hotel Owners Association (AAHOA) to speak at their annual convention in Fort Lauderdale, FL on March 24. He is also scheduled to speak at Madison Square Garden in New York City on March 20 and may visit other parts of the U.S. including Texas and California.

February 28, 2005 marked the three-year anniversary of the massacres in Gujarat, where as many as 2000 people, mostly Muslims, were killed over a period of a few days. 200,000 people were consequently internally displaced. The destructions of temples, homes, and businesses ran into millions of dollars worth of property damage.

International and Indian human rights groups such as the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) of India, Human Rights Watch, and Amnesty International have condemned the Modi-led government of Gujarat for its role in the killing, rape, and brutal violence. Currently, there are two legal cases lodged against Modi in Gujarat.

“This is not a man that the AAHOA should invite to speak to the future of Asian American business,” says Dr. Angana Chatterji, Associate Professor in the Social and Cultural Anthropology Program at the California Institute of Integral Studies. “This is a man we should hold accountable for crimes against humanity and genocide.”

Chatterji is part of the Coalition Against Genocide (CAG), which was recently formed by a wide spectrum of organizations based in U.S. to mobilize against Modi’s visit.

Coordinated campaign CAG, which includes community-based groups, developmental groups, human rights groups, and academic experts, has been coordinating efforts against the spread of religious hatred in India, along with groups such the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) and Institute on Religion and Public Policy (IRPP), which together are trying to block Modi's visit to the United States.

Members of CAG sent a letter to AAHOA on February 19, asking it to rescinded its invitation to Modi. The letter stated, “By honoring Mr. Modi at the AAHOA Meeting, you dishonor the victims of the Gujarat pogrom, and insult the moral dignity of all Indians and world citizens. Your decision to invite Mr. Modi brings shame to the Indian-American community, which takes pride in upholding secular principles.”

At the time of this writing, the association has not responded to CAG’s letter. One signer, George Abraham, believes “there is enough dissent within AAHOA that they might pull out,” but could not provide concrete details. It is known that the decision to invite Modi has been controversial within the association. However, the leadership seems committed to its invitation. According a report by CAG, some who lead the AAHOA have been linked to Hindu fundamentalists groups in India.

Activists are also applying pressure on the U.S. government. CAIR called on the Bush administration to block Modi's entry based on a section (Sec. 604) of the International Religious Freedom Act that makes any foreign official who has engaged in “particularly severe violations of religious freedom” inadmissible to the United States. A group of over 100 faculty working on South Asian and allied issues in the U.S. sent a letter to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice with the same request.

There has been no official response from the Bush administration on this issue. Benjamin Marsh, a Fellow at IRPP, says, “This is the first time anyone has attempted to apply this law. We’re not sure what the response will be.”

Additionally, CAG has asked Chris Matthews of MSNBC show Hardball�who accepted an invitation to speak at the AAHOA conference�to withdraw unless Modi’s invitation is cancelled.

In the event that Modi comes to the U.S. there will be organized public protests at his events. The CAG website {{hyperlink: http://coalitionagaisntgenocide.org}} will announce updated information about upcoming protests. The protest in New York is scheduled for 4 pm outside of Madison Square Garden.

“The Lion of Gujarat” Modi is a leader in the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). Though the BJP lost the recent national elections in India, it stayed in power in several states, including Gujarat. According to a BBC profile on Modi {{hyperlink http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/south_asia/1958555.stm}}, analysts suspect that Modi remained in power because of his close association with influential right-wing Hindu organization Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), which is dedicated to turning India into a Hindu nation. During his 2002 campaign, Modi ran on a platform of Hindutva (hard-line Hinduism).

The website advertising Modi’s visit {{hyperlink: http://www.narendramodi.net/}} to the U.S. describes him as a “visionary” leader of India, and hails him as the “Lion of Gujarat.”

This moniker is not one that all would embrace. Chatterji says, “for Muslims, Christians, dalits (erstwhile ‘untouchable’ caste groups), adivasis (tribals, indigenous peoples) who are targeted and fearful, Narendra Modi, the architect of the state-organized violence in 2002, is a monster whose words and deeds have endorsed rapes and the forced abortion of fetuses and their display on trishuls [tridents] -- unlimited brutalities that irrevocably scar the present.”

State-sponsored massacres According to a report {{hyperlink http://www.hrw.org/reports/2002/india/}}, put out by Human Rights Watch “evidence collected by the media, Indian human rights groups, and Human Rights Watch all point to state sponsorship of the [2002 Gujarat] attacks. Eyewitness accounts�[also] demonstrate the state’s partisan role.”

The same report describes graffiti that was found on a building burned during the attack that read: “We will kill. Long live the Bajrang Dal [a Hindu nationalist group]. Long live Narendra Modi.”

A few days after the riots began, Modi talked to reporters. He described the killings, burnings, sexual mutilations, and rapes that had occurred as “resulting from the natural and justified anger of the people.” He added, “the five crore [50 million] people of Gujarat have shown remarkable restraint under grave provocation,” referring to the brutal murders of 58 Hindu religious volunteers, which ostensibly set off the riots.

The violence against religious and ethnic minorities did not end after the Gujarat riots. Attacks were reported months after the state government claimed that the situation had been brought under control.

In addition, the report by the Coalition Against Genocide states that “the Government of Gujarat was grossly and willfully negligent in providing necessary political support, security, relief, resettlement, and rehabilitation measures to the victims. Witnesses and survivors continue to be apprehensive of and endure threats of violence, in the absence of support and psychological and social care.”

Modi’s government, despite the international attention brought on by the massacres and their aftermath, continues to endorse a fascist ideology. The Times of India {{hyperlink http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/articeshow/msid-868469.cms}} reported last year that a social studies textbook published by the Gujarat State Board of School Textbooks “glorified Fascism and Nazism.” The book presents “a frighteningly uncritical picture of Fascism and Nazism, ” and only a brief mention of the Holocaust. The book was later withdrawn under pressure.

Strictly business? “Someone who facilitated distribution of a book praising the perpetrator of the Holocaust deserves to be repudiated, not honored or granted entry to America,” said Nihad Awad, Executive Director of CAIR.

The AAHOA insists that their invitation to Modi has nothing to do with politics. While calls to the association have not been returned at the time of this writing, Danny Patel, AAHOA treasurer, has been quoted by the Hindustan Times {{hyperlink http://www.hindustantimes.com/news/181_1264269,00050001.htm}} as saying “We are inviting the Chief Minister of Gujarat, who may be any individual. We want to hear him on investment opportunities in the state.”

And the organization sponsoring Modi’s visit to the U.S., the Association of Indian Americans for North America, notes that Modi has “undertaken a massive program for investment promotion in the State of Gujarat. With this objective in mind, he is visiting [the] USA.”

For Chatterji and other activists, this reasoning doesn’t make sense. “The purpose of the AAHOA meeting is to attract investment to Gujarat,” says Chatterji. ”Investment is a method for securing livelihood, dignity, peaceful coexistence for all the people of Gujarat. How can Narendra Modi speak to these values?”

Because of the attention drawn to AAHOA, the association recently altered their website to be password protected. Dr. Shaik Ubaid of the Indian-Muslim Council-USA (a CAG member) finds it ironic that an organization in the service industry “which is supposed to serve the needs of the public, is now forced to close their website.”

Infiltration by right-wing groups Modi’s invitation by the AAHOA takes place within a larger concern about the presence of Hindu nationalists in the U.S. According to a press release from the CAG, the AAHOA’s willingness to embrace Modi “raises the speculation that Indian American Professional Organizations are being infiltrated by sectarian ultra-nationalists and have become conduits for their fundraising and political support in U.S..”

“Actually, it is fortunate that Mr. Modi is coming to the U.S.,” says Ubaid. “For the past 10 to 15 years, Hindutva fascist groups have infiltrated professional Indian organizations and established a network that funds pogroms and massacres in India, as well as schools that indoctrinate children in Hindutva ultra-nationalist philosophy.” He notes “such activities are hurting the interest of India as well as the interests and reputation of non-resident Indians. Before the controversy over Mr. Modi’s invitation, most Americans were not aware of the activities of the [Hindu] right wing in the U.S.. Mr. Modi’s attempt to come here is drawing attention to this trend.”

Groups such as the Campaign to Stop Funding Hate {{hyperlink http://stopfundinghate.org}} and Awaaz�South Asian Watch {{hyperlink http://www.awaazsaw.org}} have documented how Hindu fundamentalist groups are raising large sums of money in the U.S. and U.K. in the guise of charity. “All hardcore organizations have chapters in the U.S.” claims Chatterji.

Hindu nationalist are now targeting professional organizations as well as universities. The Hindu Student Council, which can be found on campus across the county, attracts students by creating a place where Hindu culture is affirmed and offering a place for them to belong. “But in that space,” says Chatterji, “they promote the idea of India as a Hindu nation. They claim that Muslims, Christians, Sikhs and other minority groups are secondary citizens, and circulate the fiction of a Hindu holocaust.”

About mobilizing against Modi’s visit, Ubaid says, “this is not so much about Modi, though he has done terrible things. This is about the ideology that turns people into killers and rapists, and how groups that promote this ideology are working here in the U.S.”

CAG Reports

Affiliations of Faith (Part II): Joined at the Hip

Affiliations of Faith (Part I): HAF and the Global Sangh

Genocide in Gujarat - The Sangh Parivar, Narendra Modi, and the Government of Gujarat

Final Solution Preview
Final Solution


  Final Solution is a study of the politics of hate. Set in Gujarat during the period February/March 2002 - July 2003, the film examines the genocidal violence of the Hindutva right-wing by exploiting the Godhra train incident and then goes on to document the various acts of brutality that marked the violence that followed. It travels with the election campaign during the Assembly elections in Gujarat in late 2002, and documents the spread of hate and fascism that accompanied it.