Guest Writer- Teesta Setalvad
Narendra Modi, the controversial chief minister of Gujarat was invited to be the keynote speaker at Wharton at its 17th Economic Forum on March 23, 2013. The Civil Rights groups across the world and especially in India were shocked and dismayed at such reports given the fact that the US administration had firmly stated weeks ago there was no question of any reversal of its decision to grant a visa to a man against whom serious charges of criminal conspiracy, subversion of justice, mass murder and destruction of evidence are still pending judgemnent (see report attached at the end of this report)
From March 18, 2005 onwards, the United States State Department refused a diplomatic visa to a politician, who, as chief minister, did nothing to prevent a series of orchestrated reprisal killings that targeted Muslims in Gujarat. The most conservative estimates are that over a thousand people, mostly Muslims, died in the premedidated violence while actual figures peg those dead and missing at 2,500. Over a hundred thousands were rendered displaced in their own homeland of which close to 18,000 still live in sub human conditions. Over 10,000 small and large businesses were systematically targeted causing a loss of Rs 4,000 crore and 297 places of worship of the minority (Mosques and Durgahs) were specifically targeted and destroyed. In the 11-year old struggle for justice, the state of Gujarat through its police have systematically tried to attack and even jail human rights defenders assisting the Survivors in their struggle for justice. In 2002, Human Rights Watch (among other international and Indian bodies) showed that politicians and the police in the state abetted the slaughter and displacement of Muslim Gujaratis:http://www.hrw.org/news/2002/04/29/india-gujarat-officials-took-part-anti-muslim-violence.
Apart from the allegations of criminal conspiracy to commit mass murder, destroy records, subvert justice that the chief minister faces (moves to frame charges will be filed in a Court by April 15 2014), the unrepentant chief minister has doggedly fought efforts by minority groups to get the 297 shrines that were destroyed, restored. The High Court of Gujarat and the Supreme Court of India http://articles.timesofindia.indiatimes.com/2012-07-31/india/32960235_1_religious-structures-tushar-mehta-kandhamal-riots)
http://www.indianexpress.com/news/sc-seeks-details-of-religious-sites-damaged-in-2002-gujarat-riots/972413 (SC seeks details of religious sites damaged in 2002 Gujarat riots ). Modi is not simply about what happened eleven years ago but represents a discriminatory mindset that is medieval and anti-Constitutional.
Since 2002, the Supreme Court of India has repeatedly faulted the Gujarat government led by Modi for failing to prosecute those guilty of the crimes in 2002 and instead prosecuting whistle-blowers and activists who had tried to bring the guilty to justice. In February 2012, the Supreme Court again criticized the Modi government for harassing activists fighting for justice with trumped up charges. What this sordid record proves is Narendra Modi’s callous disregard for the life of Indian citizens and for upholding the Indian constitution.
In taking cognizance of Modi’s culpability, the State Department also revoked his “existing tourist/business visa under section 212 (a) (2) (g) of the Immigration and Nationality Act.” As David C. Mulford, U.S. Ambassador to India, explained then, “Section 212 (a) (2) (g) makes any foreign government official who ‘was responsible for or directly carried out, at any time, particularly severe violations of religious freedom’ ineligible for a visa to the United States.” Ambassador Mulford went on to say that the State Department’s decision was “based on the fact that, as head of the State government in Gujarat between February 2002 and May 2002, [Modi] was responsible for the performance of state institutions at that time. The State Department’s detailed views on this matter are included in its annual Country Reports on Human Rights Practices and the International Religious Freedom Report. Both reports document the violence in Gujarat from February 2002 to May 2002 and cite the Indian National Human Rights Commission report, which states there was “a comprehensive failure on the part of the state government to control the persistent violation of rights of life, liberty, equality, and dignity of the people of the state”
The US state department had indicated it will continue to deny Narendra Modi a visa even as European Union recently ended its decade-long boycott of Narendra Modi. http://www.hindustantimes.com/India-news/NewDelhi/Still-no-visa-for-Narendra-Modi-US/Article1-1013974.aspx(US assistant secretary of state Robert Blake told CNN-IBN on Tuesday: “Our policy has not changed. Anyone can apply for a visa anytime, but we never prejudge the outcome of the decision… a lot of this will depend on some of the decisions that are made in the Indian courts and many of those decisions are still outstanding.” In December, American lawmakers had urged the US secretary of state Hillary Clinton to continue denying visa to Modi on the ground that his government had not adequately pursued justice for 2002 Gujarat riot victims.)
It became incomprehensible to us that Modi was the man who the Wharton India Economic Forum wished to celebrate as an exemplar of economic and social development. It was astonishing for us that any academic and student body at the University of Pennsylvania can endorse ideas about economic development that are based on the systematic oppression of minority populations, whether in India or elsewhere. Their role as scholars and students—and indeed as would-be entrepreneurs and business managers—must be to develop conscientious and efficacious modes of economic organization, not to piggy-back onto the inhuman policies of politicians who not only lack a commitment to human rights and to ideals of social justice, but whose political success is based on the suppression of substantial sections of their own citizens. Modi still does not have a US visa to enter the US, but Wharton had plans to present him on Skype to the audience. Recently there have been efforts to whitewash Modi’s grim record and to grant him respectability. Wharton’s invitation had lent itself to doing just that.
We are relieved the Wharton India Economic Forum has revoked their invitation to Narendra Modi. If it had not done so, we had pledged to protest his presence—virtual as it might have been, given that he remains ineligible for a US visa—in a variety of ways, including at the meeting of the Forum.
We urge educational institutions and entrepreneurs of tomorrow to understand the incalculable and continuing harm done by Modi’s brand of politics to India’s constitutional secularism.”
(Teesta Setalvad has been awarded by national and international organisations including the President of India in recognition of her services and courage for social justice, towards freedom of expression and the right to dissent specifically towards efforts towards a renewal of the flagging Indian criminal justice system. The awards are many and have in fact urged her towards greater commitment and excellence. Her efforts towards revitatlising the teaching of history and social studies in the school and college curriculum and agitating for education for all (KHOJ). Her investigative journalism has been recognised (Communalism Combat). )