Ebrahim Moosa – Radio Islam (10 July 2016)
Controversial Indian Prime Minister rolled in to South Africa this weekend, riding a wave of adulation and euphoria.
“Are you ready South Africa? India’s political rock star Narendra Modi is coming to town and hundreds of millions will be watching us,” announced organisers of his South African reception, quite flamboyantly, ahead of his visit.
“The City of Johannesburg will get a dose of Modi-mania on 8 July, 2016… when the Indian prime minister makes a quick-fire, high-energy visit.
The Prime Minister, it was claimed, “is highly respected for his thought leadership and views on improving the world” and would deliver his vision for the unity and prosperity of South African and India through his keynote address.
Modi’s visit was crafted as a critical and poignant reunion between the two BRICS nations and a retracing of the historical journeys of Mahatma Gandhi.
“History is witness to how Mahatma Gandhi’s stay in South Africa impacted him,” Modi said.
“He went to South Africa as a lawyer seeking work and returned to India as a strong voice for humanitarian values, who would go on to shape the history of humankind.”
Conspicuously absent from these promotions was any discussion about the violence that Modi presided over as Chief Minister of India’s Gujarat State in 2002 that conforms to the UN definition of genocide.
Whilst the ghosts of Gujarat had previously trailed Modi wherever he went, and had led to many in the international community considering him a pariah, his rise to India’s highest political office and the role of political expediency has given rise to a campaign – epitomised by the glowing promotions above – that seeks to paint Modi in a different light.
The Prime Minister is portrayed as a figure who has been exonerated from any wrongdoing in the Gujarat carnage and is presented as a uniquely competent administrator who has worked miracles in Gujarat, and subsequently the wider India.
Yet, as Ismail Vadi writes, the shrill cries of the thousands who were killed, maimed, burnt and raped during the 2002 pogrom still ring in our ears.
“The deaths, injuries, mayhem and destruction of property that followed the fateful burning on February 27 2002 of the train in Godhra (Gujarat) will remain a bloody blot on India’s history”- and one that India’s governing elite, and Modi in particular, cannot escape moral culpability for.
Here are some key facts on the extremism of Narendra Modi you should know:
A Hindu Supremacist
Since his youthful days, Modi has been an active adherent of the supremacist Hindutva ideology.
Hindutva is the term used to describe a modern, exclusionary political idea of Hindu supremacism that was directly inspired by Fascism and Nazism. It actively strives to make India a Hindu nation-state (Hindurashtra) in which all non-Hindus would be second-class citizens. Its founder, Vinayak Damodar Savarkar, was influenced by Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy and made many statements in their support. He compared Muslims in India to Jews in Germany, supported Hitler’s military invasion and occupation of Czechoslovakia and other sovereign states, and attacked Nehru for criticising Nazism and Fascism. As late as 1961, Savarkar said that India would be better off with a dictator like Hitler instead of being a democracy.
Narendra Modi is deeply committed to this far-right extremist, violent and anti-democratic ideology.
The Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS), whose core ideology is Hindutva and with whom Modi has established links, was formed in the mid-1920s under the direct inspiration of National Socialism and Fascism. Since its inception, the RSS has been involved in numerous mass anti-minority campaigns, and has been repeatedly implicated in acts of serious communal violence in independent India. Despite his newfound captivation with Gandhi, it remains a historical fact that the assassination of Gandhi was undertaken by Nathuram Godse, a member of the Modi-affiliated RSS.
Modi’s political journey, his political style, his ideas, actions and thinking have been definitively shaped by his life-long association with the RSS and its family. Despite recent attempts to present him simply as an efficient leader committed to investment and development, he remains proud of his membership of the RSS and actively espouses its Hindutva worldview. This is hardly surprising as he has been consistently associated with the RSS and its family since the age of eight, and his commitment to the RSS is amply demonstrated by a recapitulation of his career within these various capacities.
Well before his bloody role in Gujurat came to pass, Modi was centrally involved in the deeply communal and divisive Hindu supremacist campaigns of the 1980s, including the infamous chariot ‘pilgrimage’ (Rath Yatra) of the BJP and VHP from Gujarat to Ayodhya in 1990. The campaign explicitly aimed to ‘retake’ the sixteenth-century Babri mosque, claiming it was the birthplace of the Hindu deity Ram. The Rath Yatra led to considerable violence throughout India and eventually the destruction of the mosque by Sangh Parivar volunteers in 1992. Similarly, in 1991 Modi had been a key organiser in the RSS and VHP’s Ekta ‘pilgrimage’ (unity pilgrimage) campaign across India (from Kanyamumari to Kashmir), aimed at reclaiming the nation as Hindu and in the process terrorising minorities; Modi was the ‘charioteer’ in this latter ‘pilgrimage’ and organised the ‘saffron army’ (kesariya vahini) of youth, from the RSS student wing and the extremely violent Bajrang Dal, for this campaign. Similarly, Modi was involved in the organisation of another far- right ‘pilgrimage’ campaign in 1997 from Bombay to Delhi which was aimed at making Muslims accept their secondary status under Hindutva ideology.
Butcher of Gujarat
When the Ahmedabad-bound Sabarmati Express started its journey from Ayodhya it was carrying nearly 2000 passengers on board, almost double its capacity of 1,100. Nearly 1,700 people on board were karsevaks(Hindutva inspired volunteers). The media and the press had reported instances of violence occurring in UP due to clashes between karsevaks and local persons on railway stations.
On the 27th of February 2002 at about 8 am, the S-6 coach of the Sabarmati Express was burnt down, resulting in the tragic death of fifty-eight people, mostly Hindus, at Godhra railway station. The cause of the burning of the coach and consequent deaths is still to be judicially ascertained. However, there was no evidence that the burning of the carriage was premeditated. In fact, the local District Collector of Godhra, Jayanti Ravi, issued a statement, which was broadcast repeatedly from 8 am to 7 pm that day, to the effect that the Godhra fire was not pre-planned. In reality, despite the media reportage of the incident, Gujarat was relatively peaceful until the evening of 27 February 2002.
Narendra Modi and some of his cabinet colleagues arrived at Godhra at about 2 pm on 27 February 2002. Against the advice of the local administration, Modi took a decision to transport the charred bodies of the passengers of the Sabarmati Express to Ahmedabad. His initial plan was to not remove the bodies from the train but take the train with the dead bodies to the capital. However, to gain maximum publicity and media coverage, he and his colleagues decided to take the bodies in an open motor cavalcade to Ahmedabad. At about 7.30 pm that day, without any evidence to back it, Modi made a public broadcast in which he announced that ISI, the Pakistani intelligence agency, was behind the Godhra incident. He described Godhra as, ‘a preplanned, violent act of terrorism’. On the same day, in an interview, Praveen Togadia, International General Secretary of the VHP, stated ‘this has never happened in the history of Independent India. Hindu society will avenge the Godhra killings. Muslims should accept the fact that Hindus are not wearing bangles. We will respond vigorously to all such incidents’. The next day, Modi said on Doordarshan, the Indian state TV channel, ‘Gujarat shall not tolerate any such incident. The culprits will get full punishment for their sins. Not only this, we will set an example that nobody, not even in his dreams, thinks of committing a heinous crime like this’. Modi’s statements became the basis of a pogrom, of genocidal intent, against all Muslims in Gujarat.
In order to facilitate the spreading of violence from Godhra to the rest of Gujarat and to paralyse the state machinery, the VHP called for state-wide bandh (closure of all shops and business and standstill of all public transport). Despite the fact that the courts have held bandhs to be illegal, Modi, in total defiance of his constitutional and legal duties, announced and promoted a Gujarat-wide bandh the next day. He would have known and foreseen that such action would lead to breakdown of the state machinery and failure to maintain the rule of law. Indeed, all the reliable evidence suggests that Modi went further by calling two separate meetings about the official response: the first with his senior police officials and the second with senior Ministers. In both he allegedly gave specific instructions that resulted in the complete absence of police action and intervention against mobs unleashing wanton violence upon the Muslim community on 28 February 2002. Indeed central police control rooms were taken over by at least two cabinet members, Ashok Bhatt and I.K. Jadeja, in direct violation of normal procedure. As a consequence, repeated pleas for help were ignored or turned down by the police. This gross political interference was also used to monitor the response of police officers and to ensure the release of mob leaders and known supporters of the Sangh Parivar.
Mobs, led by known leaders of the Sangh Parivar attacked Muslims and their properties to carry out what can only be described as “ethnic cleansing”. The leaders of the mobs had computerized sheets of names and addresses of Muslim homes and establishments.
This carnage resulted in large-scale deaths, rapes, and grievous injury to the Muslim community. In addition, there was widespread destruction of their property, decimation of their places of worship and cultural symbols. It is estimated that across Gujarat over 1,100 Muslim owned hotels, homes of not less than 100 000 families, over 15 000 small and big establishments, around 3000 hand carts, and over 5000 vehicles were badly damaged or destroyed. At the end of the violence 2000 Muslims had died. None of the predominately Muslim residential areas and housing compounds, including Naroda Gaon and Naroda Patiya, Chamanpura, Gomtipur and Pandarwada were spared. Each district had a harrowing and barbaric story of injury, rape and murder to tell.
In contrast to the speed with which he went to Godhra, Modi refused to visit any of the affected areas or relief camps. When he chose to comment on the violence, Modi cited Newton’s Law of Motion: that every action has an equal and opposite reaction. (Zee TV, 1 March 2002). Far from adhering to his constitutional duty of preventing public anger or attacks on innocent people, Modi justified the violence as a ‘natural’ reaction to the Godhra incident. In the same vein, the VHP Vice President, Giriraj Kishore told the Times of India, ‘the violence during the bandh was a result of natural outpouring of anger and grief over the Godhra massacre.’
In the aftermath of the Gujarat carnage, he callously referred to the relief camps for Muslims victims of the carnage as ‘baby-making factories’, also making use of a hateful anti-Muslim slogan that each Muslim man has 4 wives and 25 children.
A defiler of women
There is considerable evidence to show that during the Gujarat genocide, whilst Hindu slogans were chanted, Muslim women and girls in large numbers were systematically raped and then torched to death. Mass graves have revealed the mutilated bodies of Muslim women. Testimonies from survivors in refugee camps also describe how women and young girls were gang-raped, paraded naked in public, had instruments inserted into their bodies, were subjected to sexual assaults, had their breasts cut off, their vaginas and wombs sliced open and were beaten up with rods and pipes.
Pregnant women were cut open and foetuses hung up on three-pronged trishuls (tridents that serve a symbolic Hindu religious function). In one case, several eye-witnesses testified that a pregnant woman was raped, tortured and her womb then slit open with a sword to disgorge the foetus, which was then hacked to pieces and burned with the mother. In another case a 3 year old girl was raped and killed in front of her mother.
Many women victims of gang rape and other sexual assault were burnt whilst still alive. The burning of victims had the effect of depriving their families of the opportunity of burying them in accordance with Muslim burial rituals. By burning the victims, Hindu mobs sought to enforce a cultural form of disposing of the dead and to annihilate their culture and identity.
The following are some of the key failures of Modi’s Gujarat administration, in protecting women and children, which have been listed by Amnesty International:
- The Gujarat government failed to curb the hate speech and inflammatory media and government propaganda in Gujarat which fuelled the violence and rapes
- The Gujarat police failed to protect women or arrest perpetrators of violence against women and girls
- The Gujarat police failed to register rape and sexual abuse charges and failed to investigate or collect medical evidence of rape and abuse
- The Gujarat trial courts failed to ensure justice for victims of rape and violence and instead frustrated attempts by victims to obtain a fair hearing at every level
- The Gujarat government failed to provide support, counselling and rehabilitation relief to victims of rape and sexual violence, despite the fact that the physical, psychological and financial consequence of such experiences will haunt them for many years and, for a significant number of women, for the rest of their lives
- The Gujarat government showed reluctance to cooperate with the judiciary and National Human Rights Commission. It resisted public scrutiny by intimidating witnesses and human rights activists who are campaigning for justice.
In summary, impunity for violence against women was part of the systemic discrimination that women suffered before, during and after widespread violence, under Modi’s watch.
On a deeper level, the ideology Modi subscribes to, continues to see women not as fully fledged human beings with the inalienable right to exercise their own free will and choice, but as vehicles for the expression of community honour and identity.
Modi endorses the Sangh Parivar’s patriarchal view of women as the property of their father, husbands or sons. As a member of the RSS, he supports their goal to replace the legal and constitutional rights of women in India with the Hindu law of Manu which teaches that women are subordinate to men from cradle to grave. The Modi government in Gujarat had also previously been exposed involving the use of state resources to place a young woman under surveillance at the behest of her father without her consent.
Subject of bans from the US and UK
Because of the cloud of genocide which hung over him, the United States had, denied him a visa in 2005 with the explanation that, “Chief Minister of Gujarat state Narendra Modi applied for, but was denied the diplomatic visa under section 212 (a) (2) (g) of the Act which makes any government official who was responsible for or directly carried out at any time, particularly severe violations of religious freedom, ineligible for visa.”
Based on its own investigations, the UK government also adopted a de facto policy of non-engagement with Modi. Consequently he was unable to take up invitations to speak at various events in the UK in 2005 and 2009.
However, in a move that many saw as putting economic expediency before moral responsibility, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) sent the British High Commissioner to visit him in October 2012.
Later, without any explanation for why their previous statement regarding the violations of religious freedom is void, the US government has also followed the UK in resuming engagement with Modi.
Thus, in the pursuit of narrow economic interests, these global super-powers have, perhaps not surprisingly, assisted in the effort to ‘rehabilitate, endorse and white-wash’ Modi’s image – rejecting, without any moral basis, their own unsavoury assessments of his extremism.
On legally shaky ground
Whilst his supporters claim he has been exonerated of any culpability in the Gujarat massacres, several facts challenge this assertion.
Following the pogroms, whilst not pronouncing directly on his guilt, the Indian Supreme Court described Modi as a ‘modern day Nero’.
Furthermore, the case against Narendra Modi has never been argued before the Supreme Court of India (SC). So the question of an exoneration does not even arise.
The case against Modi in India’s courts is ongoing. To claim now that he has been given a clean bill is at best an attempt at obfuscation and at worst a cynical disregard of human rights violations.
The question being considered in Indian courts is whether there is prosecutable evidence against Modi to establish criminal liability for his role in the 2002 riots which claimed the lives of over 2000 people. The allegation is that he masterminded the riots, initially, by allowing charred bodies of 58 Hindu victims of the Godhra train fire to be paraded in the streets of Ahmedabad (the commercial capital of Gujarat) on 28 February 2002. He went on to support a Gujarat bandh (strike/closure) announced by the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), a Hindu fundamentalist organisation. Furthermore, during a private meeting at his residence he asked senior police officers to not interfere if Hindus sought revenge and had two cabinet colleagues placed in the central police control rooms to ensure compliance. Finally, he prevented the army from intervening for three days.
Many have highlighted the grinding pace of justice in India. In India, as elsewhere, the level of proof required for a criminal conviction and difficulty of persuading witnesses to give evidence which might put them at risk means that powerful people are seldom convicted. The fact that a Supreme Court-appointed legal expert thinks there might be strong enough evidence to go to trial in this case is in itself remarkable. At the very least Modi presided over a situation when over 2000 people, overwhelmingly Muslims, were targeted and murdered. His actions since then have ignored the need for rehabilitation and, in fact, consistently increased the levels of alienation and marginalisation of the victims of the riots. At least one minister of his cabinet has been convicted of participating in the riots. Modi’s moral responsibility is manifest.
Whilst Modi may not have been convicted for his role in the Gujarat violence yet, several figures closely aligned to him at the time have seen the wheels of justice turn against them for activities during that period.
Dr. Maya Kodnani, appointed Minister for Child Development by Modi in 2007, was convicted of orchestrating the massacre of 95 people during the Naroda Gam and Naroda Patia riots
that followed the Godhra train burning in February 2002. She was sentenced to 28 years in prison. Amit Shah, right hand man of Modi and Minister of State for Home Affairs, was arrested on charges of having ordered a series of “encounter” killings by the State Police.
Exterminator of minorities
Prior to his ascension to the prime ministership, Modi had been in power in Gujarat since 2001. From 2001, no other state of India even came close to matching Gujarat’s record of mob violence against Muslims in 2002. Within three days of the burning of a train coach at Godhra station more than 2,000 people, largely Muslim, were killed. Many were burnt alive. Muslim women were assaulted, gang raped and tortured. More than 200,000 Muslims were made homeless and many still languish in makeshift accommodation without any compensation or even recognition of their existence.
India has seen many bloody communal riots, some even bloodier. But not since 2001. What Gujarat achieved under Modi’s rule has not been surpassed.
Even prior to the Gujarat pogrom, his rule was characterised by an intensification of the discriminatory policies enforced from 1998 onwards. Indeed, between October 2001 and February 2002, the VHP openly organized Trishul Diksha Samarohs (lit. Trident Consecration Ceremonies) in the state. At these, communal passions were incited by raising anti-Muslim and anti-Christian slogans, distribution of trishuls (tridents) and guptis (daggers) and advocating violence against minorities.
During the same period, October 2001 to February 2002, venomous pamphlets advocating the economic boycott and annihilation of the Muslim community were widely distributed, intending to and succeeding in creating a communal rift among people. In January 2002, the State Government issued a circular directing schools to conduct Hindu pujas (services), including the chanting of Sanskrit shlokas (religious verses) and lighting of diyas (lamps) to mark the anniversary of the earthquake in Bhuj, Gujarat. It also warned of adverse action if institutions did not follow the instructions. This circular was in breach of earlier High Court orders that prevented public institutions from following narrow political agendas.
Utilising staged terror to further political agendas
Twenty two alleged terrorists were killed by the Gujarat Police in over seven “encounters” between 2003 and 2007. All of them were accused of conspiring to kill Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi and senior VHP leaders.
In the years of investigations that have followed, it has become clear that some of these were, in fact, fake encounters conducted by senior Gujarat state police and officers of the Indian Police Service (IPS). A staggering six IPS officers and 13 Gujarat state police officers are in jail. D G. Vanzara, the most senior of these police officers, resigned from the police service while in jail in September 2013 and accused Amit Shah and Narendra Modi of having given the orders to eliminate four people.
In Vanzara’s words (Times of India, 3 Sept. 2013):
“CBI had arrested me and my officers holding us responsible for carrying out alleged fake encounters. If that is true, [the CBI] have to arrest the policy formulators also, as we, being field officers, have simply implemented the conscious policy of this government. … I am of the firm opinion that the place of this government, instead of being in Gandhinagar, should either be in Taloja Central Prison at Navi Mumbai or in Sabarmati Central Prison at Ahmedabad.”
A corrupt politician
Despite all that is now made of Modi and his supposed track record as a miracle administrator, a more detailed examination of his years at the helm in Gujarat reveal his achievements to be exaggerated and his relationships with leaders of influential corporations to be all too cosy and controversial for a political leader.
His appeasing of those possessing corporate clout has reaped for Modi dividends in the cause of his political advancement.
“We should all hope that chief minister Narendra Modi soon becomes the PM of India” said Basant Kumar Birla, the patriarch of Birla Group of companies, prior to Modi’s election. And he is not alone. Mukesh Ambani, chairman of Reliance Industries, called Modi “a leader with a grand vision”, while his otherwise estranged brother Anil Ambani called him “a king among kings”.
A well-orchestrated campaign was underway to portray Modi as a miracle worker. He was made out to be responsible for high level of overall growth as well as a non-corrupt, non-bureaucratic and efficient administration delivering better education, health and wealth for Gujarat. Above all he was promoted by India’s leading industrial dynasties (Tatas, Birlas, Ambanis, Mittals and Adanis among them), and the media outlets they control, as the only one capable of delivering on all these fronts and hence the best candidate for Prime Minister of India.
According to researchers, this is an utterly imbalanced view of the impact of 13 years of Modi’s reign in Gujarat. Their results show that:
- On some key welfare indicators, where India is near the bottom of world league tables, Gujarat was not even the best in India and sometimes below the all-India level.
- On many other key indicators of welfare Gujarat ranked well below other states of India.
- There were serious corruption charges against Modi’s Government evinced by:
(a) The Comptroller and Auditor General of India (CAG)
(b) The Gujarat High Court
(c) Corruption cases against serving ministers
- Gujarat under Modi had outperformed other states of India in the following:
(a) GDP growth and some related indicators
(b) Mob violence against minorities
(c) The number of ministers and senior police officers jailed for killing innocent Muslims
(d) Being home to the most polluted industrial area in India
Audits conducted during the period of Modi’s rule in Gujarat found a Rs 16,000 crore (Rs. 160 billion = £1.5 billion) hole in the state’s finances due to what can only be described as corrupt practices. A CAG report provided a long list of hand-outs to favoured industrial houses. These took the form of allocating projects without a proper bidding process, selling off public land and electricity at prices far below market value, allowing illegal permits and exemptions etc.
A buddy of Israel
Gestures between India and Apartheid Israel have warmed considerably since Modi has taken the reins. Modi is set to become the first Indian PM to visit Israel, and top Israeli leaders are likely to visit India later this year.
India-Israeli trade has more than doubled of late and Israel has been assisting India in terms of agriculture, water-desalinisation, counter-terrorism, and defence. Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu has told PM Modi that “the sky is the limit” in terms of their potential partnership. For the first time, India abstained from voting on a UN resolution that condemned Israel for possible war crimes in Gaza, in June 2015.
Also in 2015, Indian media reported that special squads believed to be agents from Israel’s Mossad and MI5 were dispatched to Turkey’s capital Ankara and to Antalya, where the G20 summit was being held, to shield Modi during his stay there. They reportedly worked alongside Indian agents, as well as local agents from Turkey and neighboring Syria.
Many have raised their opposition to his previous visits in the West
When Modi visited the UK in 2015, hundreds of protesters gathered at 10 Downing Street as he met with British counterpart David Cameron on the first day of his visit. The protests gained widespread media attention, conflicting with the “rock star” image the international community had associated with Modi.
“Our ‘Modi Not Welcome’ campaign was a game changer,” said Suresh Grover, director of Awaaz Network, who facilitated the movement against Modi’s visit. “The international community, both civil and the media, are beginning to separate the myth and reality around Mr Modi.”
The Awaaz Network and their allies were also responsible for projecting a ‘Modi Not Welcome’ sign onto the Houses of Parliament on 8 November 2015 in a move that gained widespread media attention.
Similarly, when Modi visited the USA, a group of around 200 Sikh protestors gathered at Madison Square, protesting the indifference of Modi’s government towards minorities, particularly Muslims and Sikhs.
He has tried to craftily polish his image
Stemming from the pariah image he had earned, in order to gain global acceptance as Indian Prime Minister, Modi desperately required a new international image. To this end, he engaged the services of a global public relations company.
Saffron Chase is a public relations company established by activists Vikas Pota and Manoj Ladwa, both long- term associates of Hindutva projects in the UK. Saffron Chase is a very small company that appears to be largely inactive now. Its company motto is ‘Managing Perceptions’ and it has been credited with working to rehabilitate Narendra Modi – ‘the butcher of Gujarat’ – in the UK. Its literature sought to present him as an efficient international statesman committed to business and ‘development’. It has been claimed that Saffron Chase was instrumental in changing the previous UK government’s orientation towards Narendra Modi.
Modi’s indulgence in a massive and diverse international public relations campaign in his favour has spawned a veritable cult of personality centred on Modi being diffused by the extensive network of RSS supporters in India, UK, US and elsewhere; by international public relations firms; by the so-called ‘Modibots’ (a dedicated army of zealots who bombard electronic and social media sites that post any criticism of Narendra Modi); and by some UK and US politicians, such as Barry Gardiner MP.
The image presented, through considerable effort, is of Narendra Modi as an exceptionally and uniquely competent, business-friendly leader. This has erased entirely his RSS affiliation, commitment to Hindutva political ideology, blatant antipathy towards minorities, and the barbarity of the Gujarat. This veritable public relations blitzkrieg has muddled even liberal opinion, which has been stumped by the deliberate Hindutva strategy of shrieking ‘anti-Hindu’, ‘anti-Indian’ or ‘anti-Gujarati’ whenever Modi or extremist Hindutva ideology is criticised.
Information largely adapted from the 2014 Awaaz Network Report: Narendra Modi Exposed