From Gujarat to Grosvenor Square
NARENDRA MODI and Ahmedabad pogroms, 2002. Can he really shake off responsibility?
An Indian politician who was accused of responsibility for anti-Muslim pogroms in which as many as 2,000 people may have died is coming to Britain in May, and hoping this will help him get a visa for the USA.
For Narendra Modi, Chief Minister of the west Indian state of Gujarat, this could be the path to becoming prime minister of India itself.
A leader of the right-wing, Hindu supremacist Bharatiya Janata Party(BJP), Modi already has support from important business interests. He first became Gujarat's Chief Minister in October 2001.
On February 27, 2002 some 58 Hindu pilgrims, returning from a ceremony at the disputed Ayodha temple site organised by the militant Hindu VHP, were killed when their train carriage caught fire, outside the town of Godhra. It seems there had been a fracas between some passengers and a Muslim tea vendor at Godhra station. When the train stopped at the junction, the pilgrims were singing Hindu supremacist songs and an angry Muslim crowd gathered. Some say the crowd had been organised, and the fire was started deliberately, though later inquiries found it had been an accident.
Whatever the truth, it was the signal for anti-Muslim violence to be unleashed across Gujarat. According to an official estimate, 1044 people were killed in the violence - 790 Muslims and 254 Hindus including those killed in the Godhra train fire. Another 223 people were reported missing, 2,548 injured, 919 women widowed and 606 children orphaned. About 100,000 Muslims and 40,000 Hindus were in relief camps According to Human Rights Watch(HRW), the numbers killed were 2,000.
HRW also found that the violence was not just a spontaneous reaction to the Godhra incident, as Modi and his government claimed. Organised gangs, wearing saffron scarfs, were going around with lists of homes to be attacked. A Congress party MP in whose compound people were sheltering and besieged appealed for police help, and called Chief Minister Modi direct, but no police were sent, and the people were killed. Along with many mosques and Muslim shrines, three churches were destroyed.
Although a Gujarat government inquiry cleared Modi of any responsibility for the pogroms, many people remain convinced that he and his party encouraged the violence, or at least made sure no effort was made to curb it. Comparisons have been made with Hitler's Nazis and Kristallncht. Modi was denied a US visa in 2005 and was forced to call off his UK visit that year because of protests from human rights groups.
On May 19-20 however, Modi is due to address 500 delegates attending the "India Summit" at the Marriott hotel in Grosvenor Square, London. Modi supporters are reportedly confident that after this, a US visa will follow.
A Gujarati lobby supported by British politicians is helping. Late last year, about 117 British MPs signed an Early Day Motion (EDM) in the House of Commons submitted by Brent North Labour MP Barry Gardiner, full of praise for ʽVibrant Gujaratʼ. Gardiner followed up by attending the Vibrant Gujarat summit on January 12-13 where he hailed Modi as ʽthe lion of Gujaratʼ. (Many Brent residents who remarked about Gardiner's non-appearance at local meetings on the health service will be pleased to know he has found time for some things).
Modi is also getting support from business interests, both abroad and in India. Among them is the UK 'Curry King', Sir Gulam Noon, who has an estimated fortune of £65 million. In March 2006 it was revealed that he loaned £250,000 to the Labour Party. Noon was knighted in 2002. Although once a strong critic of Modi over the Gujarat riots, he has recently had a meeting with the chief minister in Gandhinagar, and is thought to have discussed the forthcoming "India Summit".
Though affecting modesty last year and affirming support for existing BJP leader LK Advani, Modi has been supported by a section of the party to lead it into elections in May. Out of 226 senior Indian business executives polled by the Hindustan Times and the research firm, C-fore, 14 percent viewed Modi as the best candidate for prime minister, leaving him fourth on the list. Current Prime Minister Manmohan Singh was ranked first with 25 percent of the votes, followed by Advani at second position with 23 percent.
But Manmohan Singh is 76, and last month underwent a complex coronary bypass operation, his second. Even if his Congress Party-United Progressive Alliance wins in May it may replace him with Ruhul Gandhi(38) as prime minister. L.K.Advani is 81, and though the BJP may go into the elections with him, it has Modi waiting to take his place.
Two of India's biggest capitalists, Anil Ambani and Sunil Bharti Mittal, have already endorsed Modi, at the ‘Vibrant Gujarat Global Investors Summit’. "Chief Minister Modi is known as a CEO, but he is actually not a CEO, because he is not running a company or a sector. He is running a state and can also run the nation,’’ said Mittal, chairman and managing director of the Bharti group at the conference in Ahmedabad, that was attended by businessmen and dignitaries from 40 countries who pledged investments worth 250 billion US dollars in Gujarat.
Ratan Tata, the head of the giant Tata group, switched his Nano car factory from Singur, West Bengal, to a location near Ahmedabad instead. Bosses like Modi's "drive", and his government's willingness to clear the way for big business. It took only a couple of days for Tata get its plans approved. Meanwhile the right-wing BJP is stepping up its campaigning in traditionally "left-wing" West Bengal.
"Despite world recession Gujarat continues along the path of progress", Modi boasted in December.
Congress party spokesman Manish Tewari says Gujarat's economic success under BJP government is exaggerated. "'Vibrant Gujarat' is a myth...The reality is that Gujarat is one of the most indebted states of India" He accused Modi of implementing only 22 percent of the agreed investments, though the latter claimed to have implemented 63.5 percent of projects for which memoranda of understanding had been signed. Tewari did not stop there. He reminded journalists: 'In 1933, German capitalists were attracted to a fascist dictator [Adolf Hitler] ...Modi’s edifice rests on the bodies of innocent people.'
When Modi was invited to the United States four years ago his hosts were to be the the Society of Asian American Hotel Owners. But some hotel owners were relieved when he did not get a visa, saying they would not have given him a room
This time however his visit is being awaited by the US-based Global Organisation of Persons of Indian Origins (GOPIO). A delegation from GOPIO has had a Policy Planning Research meeting with Modi, and says President Obama may be more willing to give him a visa than the previous administration was. Likewise National Indian American Associations (NFIA) president C K Patel said, ''Our organisation will lobby for him and one can expect better reaction from the Democratic government, which has historically had more friendly ties with India. No head of the State or country, who is democratically elected should be denied a visa.
He added: ''Mr Modi has signed 8,558 Memoranda of Understandings (MOUs) with investments of Rs 12 lakh crore (US$ 240 billion) in the recent Vibrant Gujarat fest.''
On Modi's Human Rights record, former GOPIO president Thomas Abraham said the issue was not raised by investors and business entities. "They were focused more on the investment opportunities and returns".
Two important publications for further reading:
The Clash Within
In Bad Faith
Labels: South Asia