Modi invite is a cruel joke
by- 28th August 2013
BRITISH parliamentarians who have issued an in-principle invitation to India’s Hindu nationalist leader Narendra Modi to address the House of Commons appear wilfully ignorant of what is common knowledge about the politician’s ideology and practices.
The invitation by Labour Friends of India – reported in the Guardian here - and its Conservative equivalent, break Britain’s ten-year boycott of Modi for his complicity in - or at least abject failure to condemn - the massacre of over 2,000 Muslims in Gujarat in 2002, a year after he became the chief minister.
Modi was banned from entering the United States in 2005, and from the EU until March this year. Britain lifted its ban in October last year. Seven thousand opponents of the visit have signed an e-petition here.
Barry Gardiner, the chairman of Labour Friends of India and MP for Brent North, the site of the UK’s biggest Hindu temple in Neasden, sent the invite, justified it on economic grounds in an interview with The Times of India. Britain’s investment in Gujarat was more than the rest of India, he said.
Gardiner also aggressively defended Modi, the likely prime ministerial candidate for the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), in the 2014 general election.
‘Just because he is from the BJP does not mean he isn’t secular,’ Gardiner said in a demonstration of breathtaking religious illiteracy.
He praised Modi as ‘a secular leader who has the overwhelming support of all communities in Gujarat,’ comparing him with former Indian Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, also from the BJP.
Calling Modi secular sounds to Indians like calling Richard Dawkins Christian.
He seems to suggest that Modi is secular just because no court has convicted him of a religious hate crime.
Yet the ideology of Modi’s party is constructed around the interests of the majority Hindu community. Even their supporters’ website Friends of BJP, is unabashedly religiously and cultural exclusive.
Indeed, it is common knowledge in India that the BJP is the de-facto political wing of and controlled by the vicious Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS).
This is an umbrella Hindu nationalist organization which has been responsible for atrocities in Orissa that resulted in 2008 in an untold number of deaths, the burning of children in orphanages, the rape of women including a nun, and the displacement of 50,000 mostly outcaste Christians in Kandhamal.
A largely tribal group living in remote hills with only the Catholic Church to fight for them, this was sufficiently well off the international radar, to be discounted by mainstream reporters, and hapless politicians. See Lapido’s extensive coverage here and here.
For RSS chief Mohanrao Bhagwat, Muslims and Christians can never be proper Indians: they worship other gods, and their religions did not originate in India, as he suggested in a speech to Hindutva supporters in Ahmedabad in 2009.
The RSS considers minorities as resident aliens, no matter that some of their communities have roots in biblical times. He sees an inherent and irresolvable clash between the minorities and the majority.
It is not surprising that the high incidence of communal violence against Muslims and Christians in India is widely attributed to the RSS and the BJP. Modi is valuable to the RSS because he embodies its ideology.
It is true that a special investigation team (SIT) looking into high-profile cases related to the 2002 violence sought to absolve Modi, but its report has been challenged and it has been accused of suppressing evidence.
On 27 February 2002, a fire in a train compartment caused the deaths of 58 people in Gujarat, mostly Hindu nationalists. The fire was promptly blamed on Muslims, which led to the state-wide anti-Muslim violence though nothing was proved.
However, Modi’s role has been dubious since the day the violence began. After the train burning incident, Modi allegedly told officials, ‘This time the situation warranted that the Muslims be taught a lesson to ensure that such incidents do not recur ever again.’
To this day, Modi has not said he is sorry for what happened in his state in 2002. Last month, he told Reuters that he felt ‘bad’.
‘…Any person if we are driving a car, we are a driver, and someone else is driving a car and we’re sitting behind, even then if a puppy comes under the wheel, will it be painful or not? Of course it is.
‘If I’m a chief minister or not, I’m a human being. If something bad happens anywhere, it is natural to be sad,’ he said.
This comparison caused uproar. Modi then tweeted to defend himself, saying, ‘In our culture every form of life is valued & worshipped… People are best judge.’
Nobel laureate Amartya Sen said recently: ‘As an Indian citizen I don’t want Modi as my PM. He has not done enough to make minorities feel safe… [Minorities] could legitimately think that there was an organised violence against them in 2002. I think that is a terrible record.’
Most damning of all, Modi has perpetuated the caste system. He does not represent the socially mobile India that most Indians aspire to today.
While many have struggled for decades to help empower the Dalits, those deemed literally ‘untouchable’ because not even God recognizes them, Modi justified their status in a book – Karmayogi - which was later suppressed but not before journalists had got hold of copies.
In it he praised the work of manual scavengers - those who remove others’ faeces from drains and latrines. It promoted the ‘happiness’ of others he said:
‘I do not believe that they (Dalits) have been doing this job just to sustain their livelihood.
‘Had this been so, they would not have continued with this type of work generation after generation…
‘At some point of time, somebody must have got the enlightenment that it is their duty to work for the happiness of the entire society and the gods; that they have to do this job bestowed upon them by gods; and that this job of cleaning up should continue as an internal spiritual activity for centuries.’
Of all subjects, Gardiner invited Modi to speak to the UK parliament on ‘The Future of Modern India.’
It is evident that British parliamentarians are bending over backwards to please investors in Gujarat by sucking up to a man who represents all they purport to loathe.
By turning a blind eye to Modi’s beliefs and their impact on the poor, one might ask Gardiner and his boss about the point of the Labour Party any more.