The scheduled visit of Narendra Modi, Chief Minister of the state of Gujarat, India, to at least two U.S. cities has generated outrage among South Asians, human rights groups and others.
Modi, accused of complicity in the anti-Muslim pogroms 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, Florida, 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 United States.
TERROR IN GUJARAT
Three years ago, as many as 2,000 people, mostly Muslims, were killed over a period of a few days in Gujarat. Some 200,000 people were consequently internally displaced, and the riots caused millions of dollars worth of property damage.
The National Human Rights Commission of India, Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have all condemned Modi’s administration for its role in the mass killing, rape and brutality. 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 formed by a wide spectrum of U.S.-based organizations to mobilize against Modi’s visit. CAG and groups such as the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) have taken steps to prevent Modi from coming to the United States, including asking the AAHOA to rescind its invitation.
CAIR and others have called on the Bush administration to block Modi’s visit based on Section 604 of the International Religious Freedom Act that denies entry to any foreign official who has engaged in “particularly severe violations of religious freedom.”
CAG also asked Chris Matthews of MSNBC to withdraw from his planned appearance at the convention unless Modi’s invitation is cancelled. According to reports, Matthews cancelled, citing a “scheduling conflict.”
The AAHOA insists that their invitation to Modi has nothing to do with politics. Treasurer Danny Patel has been quoted by the Hindustan Times 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.”
“Investment is a method for securing livelihood, dignity, peaceful coexistence for all the people of Gujarat,” Chatterji notes. “How can Narendra Modi speak to these values?”
This controversy takes place within a larger concern about the presence of Hindu nationalists in the United States. According to a press release from CAG, AAHOA’s invitation “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 the U.S.” A CAG report also states that some leaders of the AAHOA have been linked to such groups.
“For the past 10 to 15 years, Hindutva fascist groups have… established a network that funds pogroms and massacres in India, as well as schools that indoctrinate children in Hindutva ultra-nationalist philosophy,” says Dr. Shaik Ubaid of the Indian-Muslim Council-USA. “Before Mr. Modi’s invitation, most Americans were not aware of the activities of the [Hindu] right wing in the U.S.”
“This is not so much about Modi, though he has done terrible things,” says Ubaid. “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.”
Public protests against Modi are being planned and will be announced on www.CoalitionAgainstGenocide.org. The protest in New York is scheduled for 4 p.m., March 20 outside of Madison Square Garden.