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Issue No.: 570 | December 2014

Modi’s Detractors in America

Sardul Singh Minhas
As Prime Minister Narendra Modi travelled to America in September, a back story persisted…That the visa-denial coalition was powered primarily by right-wing Christian evangelical support soon disillusioned Rajagopal, who had desired a large, secular coalition to accomplish his goal.

Just hours before his arrival, to start what was expected to be a triumphant five-day visit to the United States, a federal court in New York issued a summons for Mr. Modi to respond to a lawsuit that accuses him of human rights abuses in connection with sectarian riots in 2002 in Gujarat. The court's directions came in response to a mendacious complaint by the American Justice Centre, acting on behalf of two alleged victims of the riots. 
The complaint, filed in the Southern District of New York, was well timed for maximum embarrassment to the prime minister. The lawsuit would most likely be dismissed, but it achieved its purpose of distracting attention from the visit.  

The lawsuit claimed damages against Modi for crimes against humanity, accusing him of at least failing to prevent the deaths of more than 1,000 Muslims at the hands of Hindus during the 2002 riots in Gujarat. It was silent on the deaths of over 300 Hindus who died in the riots too. 

The same attorney who filed the law suit against Modi, Gurpatwant Singh Pannun, also filed a lawsuit against Sonia Gandhi, alleging human rights abuses during anti-Sikh riots in 1984. And a summons was presented to her last year. Mrs. Gandhi made a motion to dismiss the claim, and that motion succeeded this year. Apparently, Mr. Pannun has a penchant for filing high-profile cases against visiting Indian leaders.  

Pannun arranged for a small group of mostly Indian immigrants to picket Madison Square Garden in New York when Modi was given a rock star reception there on September 28, and organized protests outside the White House on September 30. The group alleged Modi bore responsibility for the poor treatment of India’s Muslim and Sikh minorities. Typical of the protestors was one Ahmed Syed, an IT consultant from San Diego, who carried a poster with a photo of Modi on one side, and photos on the other of Hindu militias training with firearms in India, with the message: "Wanted: Narendra Modi for crimes against humanity."  

The astute timing of the protests organized by Pannun served to greatly magnify his message in the American news media. It was carried in just about every report on the prime minister’s activities during the visit. For instance, the Guardian-US quoted Mr. Pannun saying "When Modi was in charge of the state of Gujarat he gave an open hand and an open field to the hunting down of Muslims, with many killed, hundreds of thousands of women raped and more than 10,000 injured. And now he is getting the red carpet treatment from the US.” The law suit and the protests threw a shadow of controversy across the visit. 

Anti-Modi activity in the US began soon after the 2002 riots. It gained strength when Modi was invited by the Asian American Hotel Owners Association to address a conference in South Florida in late March 2005. It had also invited the then Governor, Jeb Bush, of Florida and the TV talk show host Chris Matthews. The group’s chairman, Nash Patel, said at the time that many of the group’s members had roots in Gujarat. 
Soon after Modi’s US visit was announced, 41 South Asian groups across the country came together to form the Coalition Against Genocide. On Feb. 24, 2005, a letter organised by the group was sent to the hotel association, asking them to rescind Modi’s invitation. Another pressure group flooded Matthews with letters; on March 8, Chris Matthews backed out of the conference. 

One key leader of the above coalition was John Prabhudoss, an India-born, Washington-based evangelical Christian. Another was Raju Rajagopal, a retired professional based in Berkeley, California. Prabhudoss focused on Washington to lobby for denying a visa to Modi. He found an ally in John Conyers Jr., a Democratic Congressman from Michigan who had a large Arab and Muslim constituency.  

As their vehicle against Modi they used the International Religious Freedom Act, which had been enacted by the Congress in 1998. Of particular use to them was the clause that read "Any alien who, while serving as a foreign official, was responsible or directly carried out severe violations of religious freedom … was inadmissible (to the United States).” They arranged to introduce a resolution in the US House of Representatives in March, 2005, condemning Modi "for his actions to incite religious persecution.” Three days later, the State Department denied Modi a visa.  

That the visa-denial coalition was powered primarily by right-wing Christian evangelical support soon disillusioned Rajagopal, who had desired a large, secular coalition to accomplish his goal. In the nine years since, the coalition has faded; it can now be characterized as antediluvian. Its denouement appears to lie in the likes of Pannun, the New York immigration and human rights lawyer. He and his ilk are using the anti-Modi shenanigans to garner publicity for their own business, it appears.

In the meantime, the very basis of the denial of the visa to Modi, that he was responsible or directly carried out severe violations of religious freedom – the lynchpin of the International Religious freedom Act – has been demonstrated to be false. A Special Investigation Team (SIT) appointed and monitored by India’s Supreme Court not only exonerated Narendra Modi in 2012, it emphasized that "Mr. Modi took all possible steps to control the riots.”  

If one were to go by the numbers, the rapturous 30,000-strong crowd of Indian Diaspora inside Madison Square Garden presented a vivid contrast to the conniptions of the couple of hundred protestors outside. The Diaspora is thrilled with and energized by Modi. They view him as the doughty leader who will accomplish the resurgence of India on the global stage as a proud and strong nation.

DR. SARDUL SINGH MINHAS A resident of Anaheim Hills, California, is a former executive of a multinational company. He is now a business consultant and a writer.





Other Articles in this Issue

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M. V. Kamath: A Personality Sketch


Remembering Rajaji

The Wit and Wisdom of Rajaji


“I Touch a Sensitive Spot”

C. Rajagopalachari

Rajaji in his ‘Dear Reader’ page, in Swarajya


Remembering Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel

Rediscovering The Sardar

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When the Princely State of Hyderabad was integrated into the Indian Union


Assembly Elections: Haryana and Maharashtra

Haryana A Decisive Victory for the BJP

B. N. Mehrish

Maharashtra: Have the BJP and the Shiv Sena Missed the Mandate?

Nitin G. Raut

Prime Minister Modi – 6 Months After

Modi Triumphant

Firoze Hirjikaka

Modi’s Detractors in America

Sardul Singh Minhas

Federalism, Governance and Growth

Sunil S. Bhandare

The Political-Economy of Black Money in India

Ajit Karnik

Point Counter Point : Every issue has at least two sides

Maharashtra Elections

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Ottawa Attack

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The Black Money Hype

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The Rural Perspective

Agriculture and Rural Indebtedness - IV

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Foreign Relations in the 21st Century

Containment And Cooperation: Continuity and Change in India’s China Policy

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Book Review


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Vappala Balachandran

Educating Adults

The Legality of ‘Tolerated Prostitution’ - Remembering Meliscent Shephard as we Debate

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Legalising Prostitution – The Way Forward

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Sending Sheetal from a Red Light Area to a U.S drum school?


Facilities Alone do not make for Good Education – A Personal Experience

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Compelling Scientists to Teach

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From Our Readers

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Preserving Our Nationhood and Culture

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Why this Discrimination?

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Many Voices from the Past

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