By Ram Puniyani
Narendra Modi, for whom some countries are warming up to relate to him in Europe and in the East; the latest report from US must be very disheartening. Despite a strong lobby for pressurizing to grant him Visa, the United States Commission for International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), has called on the Obama administration to maintain a visa ban on Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi for his role in the pogrom of 2002 that claimed over 2,000 lives and displaced over 150,000 people, many of whom are still in makeshift houses.
The commission chairwoman Katrina Lantos Swett, of the US commission for international religious freedom (USCIRF) said that “There is significant evidence linking him (Modi, added) to the violence and the terrible events that took place in Gujarat and for this reason, a visa would not be appropriate,” In recent times Modi seems to be the only person so disgraced by the Human rights watch body. John Kerry, the present Secretary of the state of United States, had similar position about Modi, when he was the senator. He had written to the State department to the effect that Visa should be denied to Modi on the grounds of his possible role in 2002 anti Muslim pogrom. The US Intentional Religious Freedom Act of 1998 (IRFA) bars entry of aliens ‘responsible for directly carried out, particularly severe violations of religious freedom’.
The US panel points out that there is a significant evidence linking Modi to the carnage. It is on this ground that Modi is on the Visa ban list from 2005 of US, and the recent efforts of pro-Modi lobbyists is not cutting any ice, in the face of the evidence against Modi. The report also takes cognizance of Muslim community’s suspicion that Maya Kodnani, who has been jailed, is a ‘fall guy’ for Modi, a ‘sacrificial lamb’ so to say. The Commission has also put India in tier two, as for as religious freedom is concerned. It also points out that the bringing in of ‘Freedom of religion’ bills in different states of India has increased the intimidation and atrocities against religious minorities in India. This trend of bringing in such bills is more in BJP ruled states, while few other states have fallen into this unconstitutional trap.
In India last three decades in particular have seen the rise of sectarian tendencies and intimidation of religious minorities. Sikhs in 1984 (Delhi), Christians in Dangs, Kandhamal and in various scattered acts of violence in Adivasi areas in particular, and Muslims in an ongoing manner in Meerath, Malyana, Bhagalpur, Mumbai, Gujarat, various places in UP etc. The intimidation is being orchestrated at social level as well. One example of this is the religious congregations like Shabri Kumbh, the ones’ held in Dangs and many other places, through which Hindus particularly the Adivasis are frightened. The sectarian violence against Muslims is leading to a situation where the whole community is being relegated to the status of second class citizenship. Various states have brought in ‘Freedom of Religion Bill” which in an Orwellian manner prevents the free choice of religions by the people, a right granted by the Indian Constitution. These laws cannot stand the test of the values of Indian Constitution. But they give a big handle to the communal forces in collusion with the section of communalized state apparatus to intimidate the hapless religious minorities. The underlying reason of these tactics is to polarize the communities along religious lines, to prepare the ground for the ascendance of Religious nationalism, the communal fascism.
The acts of violence against the minorities are changing their pattern. On one hand instead of big massive violence, a scattered sustained violence is being organized in different parts of the country. The target is the non BJP ruled states like UP and Maharashtra in particular. In these states in particular local city based communal violence is taking place and communalizing the society. This trend will inherently strengthen the diehard communal party, which is the electoral wing of the agenda of religious nationalism. While Modi has been too clever and has changed the paradigm of his speeches from the communal one’s to the one’s revolving around the development, which as such should rather be termed as ‘pseudo development’. Modi he has already consolidated his communal-social base, so now to win the electoral battle he has to lure other layers of Hindus and communities, so the total projection around development. Somehow, though law has not fully caught up with him, the blood on his hands is refusing to get washed off despite his shrewd attempts in that direction.
The US commission report gives the hope at deeper ethical and moral grounds. Our laws and legal mechanisms are such that the guilty of communal violence are getting away while the innocent are getting killed during the communal carnages. The demand for a law which can punish the guilty for their acts of omission and commission during the violence is very much overdue. One hopes that we don’t have to depend on International agencies to nab guilty of those people who let it happen under their nose, either in a proactive way or by looking the other way around.
The test of democracy lies in assessing as to how secure the minorities are, what the level of their dignity is. On that scale India is gradually sliding down, it’s a blemish on our democratic norms. It’s time that irrespective of our religion, caste and creed we come forward to press for protection of innocents, and for this the we must come forward with suitable legislation so that those in authority cannot get away after presiding over such inhuman acts and couch them in deceptive statements to escape the noose.
The supplementary observation is about the rising trend of restriction of religious freedoms in South Asia as a whole. In recent times we have painfully seen the persecution of Christians and Hindus in Pakistan, of Buddhists and Hindus in Bangle Desh, of Muslims in Burma and Srilanka. The health of democracy in South Asia is a worrying matter. We know that regions grow together. India has been a strong pillar of democracy while other South Asian countries are in a different stage of evolution towards democracy. Somewhere military Generals are hovering over the elected leaders; at other the fundamentalist outfits are having a lion’s share in shaping the course of the events of the country. Tragically India is witnessing the downward slope on the scale of democratic ethos. Need for us to revisit the values of Freedom movement and the norms of Indian Constitution.