PM MODI TREADS THE FRAYED RED CARPET, PROTESTS GAIN MOMENTUM
Nisrin Jafri, the daughter of former Congress MP who was hacked to death during 2002
NEW DELHI: As Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi prepares to address a sold-out crowd of 20,000 people at New York’s Madison Square Garden this Sunday, the show complete with laser lights and former Miss America Nina Davuluri as co-host, accompanying the cheers will be angry protesters.
Several organisations, many of whom were part of the successful campaign to deny PM Modi a US visa, have come together under the Alliance for Justice and Accountability and plan to line the route to the Madison Square Garden with black flag waving demonstrators on September 28. The Alliance has launched a Facebook Page and is actively calling on people to participate in the protests.
The Sikhs for Justice who were the first to announce their decision to protest the PM’s visit to the United Nations General Assembly and later to Washington to meet with US President Barack Obama, have gone a step further by convening what they call a “Citizens Court” to “indict” him in the President Park right in front of the White House.
“The ‘indictment’ proceedings will be conducted in a replica courtroom with the “chargesheet” by the SFJ listing “actions of Modi” during the 2002 Gujarat riots , as per a statement issued by the organisation.
These groups have been very active in mobilising support for their protests with flyers also being distributed saying “Black Flags for visiting PM Modi.” It might be recalled that the protests by these same groups and individuals, then under the banner of Coalition against Genocide, had succeeded in pressurising the US administration at the time to deny him a visa, a ‘ban’ that was kept in force for ten years, in effect till the former Gujarat chief minister won the parliamentary elections this year and became the Prime Minister of India.
In addition to the protests, American newspapers are carrying references and reports about the 2002 Gujarat violence and this of course, in turn, largely due to the high level of activity by civil society groups that are organising protests in both New York and Washington during PM Modi’s visit.
In what is being reported as a major embarrassment to the Indian government, a US federal court has ordered PM Modi to respond to allegations outlined in a civil case that claims he is guilty of crimes against humanity, extrajudicial killings and negligence under the Alien Tort Claims Act and Torture Victim protection Act that deal with human rights violations outside the US. The lawsuit was filed just a day before PM Modi’s arrival in the US by a human rights group , the American Justice Centre, asking for punitive damages and compensation from him in connection with the violence in 2002 in Gujarat when he was the chief minister. The Centre is a non profit organisation for the rights of religious minorities in India, and is acting in this case on behalf of two victims of the 2002 violence.
The complaint that has led to the court’s ruling accused the Indian Prime Minister of initiating and condoning the 2002 violence. And details losses suffered by the two victims who reportedly lost family members in the riots. The PM has 21 days to respond after he is served the summons and although the legal consequences might not be very high for him the timing of the case, the court order and the focus on the Gujarat violence during his visit has come as a major setback and embarrassment for him and his government.
In addition to controversy surrounding protests linking the Indian Prime Minister to the Gujarat violence, the Obama administration has turned the levers on the Indian government for blocking the World Trade Organisation agreement.
PM Modi is under tremendous pressure to end the WTO blockage with the US big business now questioning his ‘reformist credentials.’ In a letter to President Obama the US Chamber of Commerce and 15 other US business associations have said that the Indian PM should be pressed to remove the barriers to fair trade when the two leaders meet in Washington.
The letter basically endorses the US position, voiced by senior State Departments officials, that relations between the two countries now were virtually dependent on New Delhi’s position on lifting the blockage. The issue had also overshadowed an earlier visit of US Secretary of State John Kerry after PM Modi took over office, with no signs of a thaw at the end of the discussions then, and for that matter now. It will dominate the discussions between the two leaders at the Washington meeting, and indeed afterwards if there is no give from the Indian side."Thus far, however, the new Indian government has produced troubling policies of its own," the group said, adding: "These actions send perplexing and contradictory new signals about India's role in the global marketplace."
US officials said that the issue will dominate the meeting. US Congressional leaders dealing with trade and finance wrote to the US International Trade Commission calling for a second investigation into India's "unfair" trade practices. Stephen Ezell, senior trade policy analyst at the Washington based Information Technology & Innovation Foundation, told a teleconference that Modi had taken some positive steps, including an easing of some restrictions on investment in the defense, insurance and railway sectors. American newspapers are carrying quotes from the US business honchos criticising Indian policies and wondering whether there will be any sort of change under PM Modi.
New Delhi has been working on the issue but there has been no word whether any headway in bridging the gulf with Washington has been made. PM Modi’s discussions with President Obama are expected to throw light on the Indian position, as clearly the status quo on this issue could freeze US-India relations beyond immediate repair. The “Make in India” launch amidst fanfare has not really created any waves in the US with the corporations looking at India to lift the trade barriers and thereby create the climate they want for business and trade. The Prime Minister will be meeting several business heads during the visit but current indications are that most of them will repeat the demand to end the WTO blockage by removing the barriers to free trade.
The denial of the visa to Narendra Modi by the Obama administration had created tensions that both governments have however worked to resolve, and had managed to put it behind them long before the visit. However, the trade barriers issue and Gujarat now are haunting the visit and will not be easy to deal as both are beyond diplomacy. In that the WTO issue concerns the business communities in both countries, and the Gujarat violence has been taken up by assertive and active civil society groups in the US, including sikh groups that will be holding a court to “indict” PM Modi in the lawns opposite the White House at the same time he will be meeting President Obama. Needless to say the ‘court’ will be as, if not more attractive as a news point, for the local media covering the visit.