Posts Tagged ‘Narendra Modi’

International Yoga Day controversy as India is accused of pushing ‘Hindu agenda’ on Muslims

June 21, 2015

Nasir Khan’s remarks On Yoga and Religions

Religions and the religious are a multi-faceted phenomenon. To my understanding, to practise yoga we need not be religious or follower of any religion. In my own case, I am a Humanist. It is in the common interest of all not to politicise yoga for political or religious ends and in this way create acrimony between Muslims and Hindus because sectarians and communalists will be very happy to play in the muddy waters and infuse their venom against other religions and their followers. Yoga exercises are amazing for gaining physical fitness and mental balance. I had taken a course in yoga a few years ago and found it quite useful. Those who want to do yoga exercises for their practical purposes don’t have to learn the yoga philosophy in depth because it is complex and may not interest everyone.

International Yoga Day controversy as India is accused of pushing ‘Hindu agenda’ on Muslims

Siobhan Fenton,  The Independent, June 21, 2015

A Hindu politician has suggested that Muslims offended by yoga should “go drown in the sea”
The first International Day of Yoga is taking place around the world today, but the celebration of a usually relaxing practice has led to an increase in tensions in some parts of India.
The day has been championed first and foremost by the Indian Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, who petitioned the UN to make the event an international affair. But as Mr Modi himself took part in a mass yoga session on Sunday morning, a fierce debate was raised about the government’s support of yoga – with some reportedly arguing that it is a Hindu practise which goes against Islamic teaching. Continues >>
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INDIA: DIAL M FOR MASSACRE

July 1, 2010

Clinching documentary evidence corroborates serious charges against Narendra Modi and key officials in his administration

BY TEESTA SETALVAD, Combat Communalism, June 2010

Three months ago, our covert story, SIT-ting on the Truth (March 2010) exposed the frivolous and shallow investigations of the Gujarat massacres undertaken by the high-profile Special Investigation Team (SIT) appointed by the Supreme Court and headed by former CBI director RK Raghavan. One of the major issues raised was the deliberate refusal of SIT – influenced as it was by the three officers of the Gujarat police cadre, Shivanand Jha, Geeta Johri and Ashish Bhatia – to examine available documentary evidence to pin responsibility for complicity and gross dereliction of duty by top police officers, civil servants and politicians.

Continues >>

Gujarat: All’s Not Well With Your Home, Chief Minister Modi

May 29, 2010

Tehelka Magazine, Vol. 7, Issue 22, June 5, 2010

NARENDRA MODI HAD ONCE BRAZENLY UPHELD SOHRABUDDIN’S FAKE KILLING. NOW, AS THE CBI  ARRESTS TOP COPS,THE DIRT BEGINS TO UNRAVEL IN GUJARAT, SAYS RANA AYYUB

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Present continuous TEHELKA has persistently tracked the unraveling of the ‘encounter’ killings by Gujarat Police

IS THE noose tightening around Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi over his administration’s alleged complicity in the 2002 massacre of Muslims? Is nemesis, as the cliché goes, finally catching up with him for a string of allegedly fake encounter killings of “terrorists” by his police? It may be too early to call curtains for arguably India’s craftiest politician that Modi has turned out to be over the last eight years. Yet, the arrest of a top police officer in Gujarat by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) may well begin to unravel the Modi era.

Indeed, so thoroughly alarmed are the Bjp, Modi, and others implicated in the Muslim massacres and the encounter killings, that there is a clear last-ditch attempt at preventing the CBI from establishing the truth. The latest round started on january 12 this year when the supreme Court ordered the CBI to reinvestigate the 2005 encounter killing of Gujarat businessman sohrabuddin shaikh, his wife Kauserbi, and an associate of his, tulsi prajapati. sohrabuddin, a small time extortionist, was killed in a joint encounter by the Gujarat and Rajasthan police in November 2005 when he was travelling with his wife Kauserbi, on charges of being a Lashkar-e-tayyeba member on his way to Gujarat to assassinate Modi. A similar theory was given at the time of the Ishrat jahan encounter a year before and later proved as fake by the justice tamang Committee.

Continues >>

India: Troubled Times for Advani & Modi

April 9, 2010

Will the state desert them to justice?

By Badri Raina, ZNet, March 31, 2010

Badri Raina’s ZSpace Page

Satyam Eva Jayate

(The Truth is ever victorious).

I

It suits India’s elite opinion-makers always to characterize the Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) as India’s  “principal opposition party.”

Principal opposition, presumably, to “the natural party of governance,” namely, the Indian National Congress.

The years have shown that such characterization on fact is patently erroneous, especially over the last two decades of Independent India’s existence.  Be it market fundamentalism, or militarism directed at “terrorists” and “naxals” or love of American imperialism  there is little daylight between the Congress and the BJP.

Even on that “basic” postulate of the Constitution of India, “secularism,” one has always known that  substantial sections among the Congress party covertly share the majoritarian impulses of the BJP, even as the party as a whole swears by  the principle of secularism as an article of faith and a feature of its long history.  Which is not to deny that other sections within the Congress continue to remain laudably wedded to Nehru’s vision of a welfare state of which secular citizenship was envisaged as a founding bedrock.  Without question, this section within the Congress has the great good luck of having Sonia Gandhi as a bearer of that legacy.

Continues >>

India: A Tale of Two Chief Ministers

January 25, 2010

By Badri Raina, ZNet, January 24, 2010

Badri Raina’s ZSpace Page

I

Long years ago, at the conclusion of my doctoral work in America, pressure was put on me to stay and teach there.  Twice, in fact.  Each time I made excuses. Pressed hard to explain I had the following to say:

–admittedly, staying on there would yield me every facility to write half a dozen books, but once outside the confines of academe, what would I be a part of?  By ‘what’ I meant what sort of active political involvement.  It did seem to me that the “end of history” thesis justly applied to the United  States.  With few resistance movements on the ground, post-Vietnam,  only centrist politics  remained available.  And who doesn’t know that the Republicans and the Democrats are, all said and done, tweedledum and tweedledee, espousing at bottom one and the same class interest.  There has rarely been an occasion when American history in the contemporary moment seemed to offer any major openings beyond what has always obtained—individualism, market economics, puritan exceptionalism, a commitment to “just” warfare, and a  near-universal abhorrence of  socialist thought and of any skepticism with respect to  god’s  purposes.

Continues >>

A Future India Must Do Without

January 4, 2010

By Badri Raina, ZNet, Jan 3, 2010

Badri Raina’s ZSpace Page

“Genius: a person who has a strong influence upon one for good or ill.”

(Advanced Oxford Dictionary)

I

All of the year gone by, India’s corporate classes—in sundry areas of material control, including the media—have been pushing and prodding the Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) to return from the dumps to health and vigour. Editorially this Hindu right-wing formation has been reminded how the nation cannot do without them.

Alas, at the end of it all, its unedifying, even if highly diverting, internal squabbles have been for now set to right, not by its own autonomous political exertions, but per diktat of the RSS—a fascist outfit wholly extraneous to the Constitutional scheme of the Republic.

Brushing aside the many hopefuls within the BJP, Nitin Gadkari, a self-confessed RSS devotee who has never yet won an election to an assembly, not to speak of the parliament, has been installed as President of the BJP vide explicit decree of the RSS.

Continues >>

Something Rotten in the State of Gujarat

September 12, 2009

By Badri Raina, ZNet, Sep 12, 2009

Badri Raina’s ZSpace Page

I have supped full with horrors;

Direness, familiar to my slaughterous thoughts,

Cannot once start me.
(Macbeth Modi)

I

Indeed, great is the temptation to write this account wholly in Shakespearean quotation.

Four new skeletons now rattle for justice in the Modi cupboard. And well might he be saying to himself:

the time has been,

That, when the brains were out, the man would die,

And there an end; but now they rise again,

With twenty mortal murders on their crowns;

A judicial magistrate in Ahmedabad, one good man Tamang, has held that the killing of the nineteen year old college girl, Ishrat Jahan, and four others in June, 2004 was , after all, yet another “fake encounter” executed by high-ranked police Modi loyalists to curry favour with him and obtain preferment.

This on the heels of the earlier murder of one Sohrabuddin and his wife, Kausar Bi, acknowledged in court by the Modi government to have been “fake encounters.” And by the very same police personnel as well, two of whom are now in the slammer for that killing. At least for now.

Speculation is rife as to how many official murders may have been effected by the Gujarat state since 2002, when the Gujarat massacre took place.

Continues >>

Religion and Pakistan Problem

April 25, 2009

By Badri Raina | ZNet, April 25, 2009

Badri Raina’s ZSpace Page

Without religion, you would have good people doing good things, and evil people doing evil things. But for good people to do evil things, it takes religion.”

—Steven Weinberg

I

Nowhere is the truth of Weinberg’s insight more commonly and more globally apparent than during times of inter-community violence in one part of the world or another.

Routinely during India’s routine “communal riots,” it is seen that there are those who weapon in hand, set out to kill in the name of their religion, and, others who, despite belonging to the same religion, seek to save the hapless victims because they happen to be just good-natured human beings first.

The argument is not that individuals may not practice the tenets of a religion, but that it is only when common humanity sets religion aside that anything good gets done.

If I am writing this, it is because when the first tribal attack happened on Kashmir in 1947, it was our own Kashmiri Muslims who saved so many of us Hindus from the depredations of their co-religionist attackers.

Just as in the Gujarat pogrom of 2002, many desperate Muslims found safety in Gujarati Hindu homes.

On a larger scale, often good people in great office are known to pursue vicious ends with the self-righteous sanction of some self-defined religious impulse.

Voices come to them which decree that this country or that be assaulted forthwith if the world is to be saved for some “noble” end. That those so-called “noble” ends often turn out to be crassly ignoble of course remains a truism of organized histories.

Millions, we are tutored by god’s own leaders, must die so that other millions be saved for the good life. Or else why would Hiroshima have happened? And, soon after Nagasaki, without a hint of remorse at or recognition of the meaning of the first catastrophe.

It is for such reasons that the accreted experiences of collective life and strife were to persuade humanist theorists that whereas human beings are free to have and practice religions, the one thing that the State must never have is religion. It would be so much nicer if it also had no armaments. But that is another, though a closely related, story.

That after all was the idea that was to translate into the notion of human beings as secular citizens, subject to secular laws which were made by common consent and with universal applicability.

And made by institutions which embodied the “general will” rather than some sectarian interest over which only some self-appointed closet Authority had the first and last say.

Pandit, Pope, or Mullah. Or the Dictator blessed by them, blessing them in turn.

Authority which drew its sanction from some permanently unverifiable intimacy with god. For in that scheme of things that which remains forever absent must come to be seen as having absolute sway over everything that is present or available to human determination. And through the unchallengeable agency of god’s self-appointed interlocutors.

The pity of it all is that this notion of Authority tends repeatedly to find favour with the high and mighty who fear the consequences of democracy.

And in many ivy league academies it is not unusual to find high-priests of culture who hold, breathtakingly, the view that whereas poetry must be deeply personal and private, or that literary texts ought to be read principally as coded offerings with transcendent meanings, or as inconsequentially dull or pleasurable distractions, religion we require to suffuse our collective social and political lives, and indeed, when the time comes, to kill and pillage without suffering guilt or shame. Or, indeed, doubt.

That such worthies have often been discovered, finally, to have been on the side of the fascists should be no surprise.

Which is not to say that there have not been godless atheists who have not wrought mayhem upon the world. That they did not do so under the cloak of religious sanction, or at god’s command, however, left them rather more naked to scrutiny and opprobrium than those who have killed and who kill in the name of god and religion.

How often and how conveniently they have pleaded that they may not be held responsible, since they had no axe of their own to grind, being mere agents of some divine command. Command that never is susceptible to interception, however evolved the snooping technologies of the world. No satellite thus far that could bring us the gleam in god’s hinting eye.

II

Even now there are those in the “Christian” world who believe that the State should essentially be driven by Biblical injunctions. Meaning of course only those injunctions which suit their class purposes: “give unto Caesar what is Caesar’s,” but never “it is as difficult for a rich man to go to heaven as for a camel to pass through the eye of the needle,” or “do unto others as you would have others do unto you,” or “blessed are the meek, for their’s is the kingdom of heaven,” and “lay not thy treasure upon the earth,” etc.,

Thus many in America still hold to the view that the “American Dream” has had behind it a divine sanction, especially as deriving from such exegeses of the business of Christianity as provided in the work of the theologian, John Calvin. After all, it must have seemed providential to the Puritans escaping religious persecution in Europe to find a whole “empty” continent ready and waiting for them.

As to the natives who had been there over millennia, their time had clearly come to yield the continent to god’s chosen people!

With an acumen marvelously apposite to Capitalism, Calvin was to argue that human beings could not be saved on the day of Judgement either by the “good works” they had done, or because of the “faith” they had felt, however intensely, be it. Such matters, he argued, were all “pre-determined” by god.

And, thus, whereas the homo sapien could never have any free will in matters spiritual, he was totally his own man in matters temporal. From thence you can see how Manhattan came to be.

And that, therefore, like the ‘divine right of kings’ of pre-capitalist times in Europe, the American State has a similar divine right to make or break all the laws that must govern the fallen world elsewhere.

Yet, the salutary fact remains that over some two hundred years of practicing democracy, it is hardly imaginable that America will be allowed by the American “general will” to become a theocracy. Thank god for that one certainty.

The Zionists in Israel have of course an even more ancient divine claim to make to the land of Palestine, don’t we know.

But even there, all the calumnies notwithstanding, there are enough fissures and fractures and dissensions that may not be stilled violently within the democracy they practice.

That such democracy is most of the time not to be made available to Arab Israelis is of course another matter. What is to the point here is that the critiques of official dogmas which exist in that State among the Jewish media and intelligentsia, extending sometimes to bold, radical opposition, is not subject to the fear of the loss of limb and life on behalf of the state.

In India, likewise, there are those who wish still to convert the secular nation-state into a Hindu Rashtra. Never a day passes when in some part or the other of the country we do not hear from them, in lesser or greater degree of barbarism. Now vandalizing churches, now demolishing mosques, now chasing and roughing up women in pubs, or art galleries and inimical cultural activists, now going for wholesale loot, burn, and kill pogroms.

Yet, the fact remains that the organized political force which represents that view fails to get the electoral endorsement of some 70% of Hindus. And more especially, thanks to a secular Constitution and to secular institutions of State, their’s remains an unrealizable project, because unauthorized by state ideology for now.

And thanks in large measure also to the fact that the armed forces in India have no religious axes to grind.

The fact of India’s secular Constitution always puts the Hindutva brigade in the wrong, and lends legitimacy to the exertions of those who seek to foil the totalitarian-racist agenda of Hindutva.

III

In an earlier column on the issue (The Pakistan Problem, ZNet, April 08, 2009) I had argued that, after all the micro-level analyses of the situation in that embroiled country, the fundamental source of what is happening there resides in the Pakistani State’s ambiguity about itself. An ambiguity, for example, which does not bedevil Saudi Arabia or Iran who remain full-bloodedly Islamic.

To wit, does the legitimacy of the State in Pakistan derive from secular and egalitarian principles of citizenship and a secular regime of laws and institutions, or must it in turn still seek legitimation from a theocratic idea which supersedes what mere legislators decree?

It should be obvious that the victory of secular parties in recent Pakistani general elections notwithstanding, the question remains a moot one. Or else why would the world be witness to the extraordinary occurrence of a whole swathe of territory being officially allowed to practice Islamic Sharia dispensations rather than the systems of justice available in metropolitan Pakistan?

It is to be doubted whether even a majority, single-party BJP government at the centre in Delhi would formally say to Narendra Modi in Gujarat, “go, you are now free to institute a Hindu Rashtra in Gujarat, delinked from the secular Constitution of India,” although such may remain its nefarious, subterranean goal. But that is in large measure due to the fact that the Constitution of the Indian Republic is unambiguously secular in the first place.

Just to recall that in Pakistan the Hudood laws brought on the books during the Zia-ul-Haq regime, chiefly to render women disenfranchised chattel, have not exactly disappeared from those books.

And, having tasted blood in the Swat valley of the North West Frontier Province, the Taliban cleric, Sufi Mohammed, has gone on to make a more fundamental proposition—one that informs the anxiety of this column and the earlier column I wrote.

Succintly, the Sufi has postulated that democracy is an un-Islamic system (HT, April, 20).

And thereby hangs the tale to which I think attention requires to be drawn with more honesty and rigour than seems either available or palatable.

Put simply, it was my argument in the previous column that this is precisely the postulation that all those in and out of governance in Pakistan who stand by democracy need to confront.

To put the matter sharply: having successfully defeated a dictatorship, are they now willing to lose out to theocracy?

It was also another part of the same argument that this confrontation cannot be engaged in or won if the battle is joined on the turf laid out by those who hold that Pakistan being an “Islamic Republic” must self-evidently abide by Islamic Fiqh (jurisprudence) rather than by such tenets of law and citizenship that derive from the Enlightenment.

And the fact that Pakistan does formally continue to be an “Islamic Republic” only must lend strength and legitimacy to the Taliban argument rather than to the exertions of those among Pakistan’s rights groups and westernized elites who seek a destiny of “modernity” for their country. Not just in technological terms, but as principles of social and legal behaviour, and of State policy.

Needless to say, the attempt to meet the Taliban argument half-way, as it were, bears as little logic or promise of success in Pakistan as for us in India to grant with any modicum of compromise the perception that India is essentially a Hindu nation.

The difference is that Pakistan seemingly teeters on the edge of a paradigm shift. Sooner than later, that shift will have to happen, one way or another. It may not be able to linger too long in the area of ambiguity.

Depending on what option it chooses, there cannot but be consequences. Should it choose to go over with full scope and honesty to Islamic statehood, we may have losers of one kind. But should it choose to strive for a secular statehood, the losers may be of another kind.

And, depending on who loses and who wins, the consequences for Pakistan, the sub-continent, and the world in general will not but be also suitably momentous.

As things are shaping, it seems less and less likely that Pakistan can procrastinate forever, or find answers merely in a discourse of accommodation, however adroitly articulated. Or, indeed, deflect the problematic by foregrounding its enmity with India as its primary antagonism.

In the final analysis, Islamism and democracy may indeed find themselves at irreconcilable loggerheads, as the good Sufi Mohammed suggests. Religion, we submit may bring solace to the individual soul; it only brings disaster to nations and states when it is made their chief informing principle.

badri.raina@gmail.com

Indian Rightist leader L. K. Advani

April 16, 2009

By Badri Raina | ZNet, Apri 16, 2009

Badri Raina’s ZSpace Page


I

India’s oldest political formation, the Indian National Congress, dates back formally to 1885, a fact that the gauche Narendra Modi has recently scoffed at in his typical lumpen oratory.

It would hardly help to remind him, bruisingly bratish as he is in his paunchy middle age, that he exists in a free India thanks to the fact first that the Congress did start as early as it did. After all, the RSS of which he is such a poster boy, happened only in 1924—and happened chiefly to stymie the freedom movement led by Gandhi and the Congress.

As to L.K.Advani, the 82 year old aspirant to prime ministership on behalf of the right-wing Hindu BJP, his blood-soaked career may be said to be only as young as some two decades, marked forever by the fascist putsch on Ayodhya, the demolition of a four-hundred year old mosque as he stood on site, and the pogroms that followed in Mumbai and Gujarat.

And by his inability, as the home minister and deputy prime minister (1999-2004) to prevent several terrorist strikes, even as the draconian POTA (Prevention of Terrorism Act) was in place, including the strike on the parliament of India; his acquiescence in the shameful decision of allowing three first order terrorists to be escorted in a plane to Kandahar by no less than the foreign minister of the day, and by his refusal to intervene in Gujarat as Modi’s henchmen hacked the Muslims there. If anything, Modi, to whose influence Advani owes his electoral prospects in the constituency of Gandhinagar in Gujarat, remains his hero.

Interestingly, while some Congressmen raise hackles of a media friendly to the BJP for their still unproven involvement in the Delhi Sikh killings of 1984, following Indira Gandhi’s gruesome murder, the fact is never highlighted that, unlike those people, Advani is actually chargesheeted under section 153-A of the Indian Penal Code, an offence that can carry a sentence of upto or more than seven years in the slammer.

And nobody who routinely complains here about the law’s delay seems to complain that the case against him remains mysteriously in limbo. Or that he should still be allowed to stand for office in the face of that chargesheet while others similarly charged are routinely hounded by the media and other high-minded sections of the Indian elite.

Incidentally, with respect to the Sikh killings in Delhi (1984) for which only the Congress party is held accountable, (that many of its satraps were involved in instigating the killings is not in doubt) it is instructive to read what Nanaji Deshmukh, that most respected of the Hindutva echelon, wrote in the Hindi Weekly, Pratipaksh, in its issue of November, 25, 1984—a Weekly then edited by no less than the redoubtable George Fernandes, defence minister of India under the NDA regime of 1999-2004.

It was his straightforward view that the killings of the Sikhs reflected a broad-based animus that India’s Hindus harboured against them. And, in his view, justly. No wonder that only the other day, Jagdish Tytler, one of the Congress leaders under suspicion, fairly or unfairly, pointed to the fact that some forty or more FIRs (first information reports with the police) still remain in place against individuals known to belong to the Hindutva camp, a feature of the 1984 killings almost never brought to public light.

II

Not heeding Modi’s diatribe against gerontocracy —just the other day he has said that the Congress Party is an 125 year old female hag and deserves to be dumped, a fine tribute to the Hindutva tradition of respect for elders and women especially that Hindus are everyday taught in RSS shakhas—Advani, even at 82 wishes to be India’s chief executive. A pathetic case of Barkis being more than willing.

A man of little empathy and even less imagination, he now gives us clinching evidence as to why his success in achieving that goal (of which thankfully there is not even a minimal prospect as of this day) could spell the end of the secular Republic of India.

In a letter addressed to some 1000 religious leaders, the bulk of them belonging to the Hindu faith, Advani, would you believe it, has asked for their “support” and ended his letter to them with a “shastang namaskar” (to wit, a prostrated obeisance).

That this is much more than merely courting religious communalism and drafting it to electoral success, is underlined by what he says subsequently: “It will be my endeavour (as prime minister of a secular Republic, mind you) to seek on a regular basis the guidance of spiritual leaders . . .on major challenges and issues facing the nation. For this we shall evolve a suitable . . . consultative mechanism” (emphasis added).

Put simply, the BJP candidate for prime ministership promises to return the secular Republic to an era when India’s kings and queens—mainly kings—always had at their royal elbow the religious authority of the dharma guru, and whose counsel on matters of war and peace would be decisive.

A sort of holy Hindu empire, if you like, with Hindu versions of the Wolseys and the Cranmers ready at hand.

That Advani should have so blatantly sought this course must suggest something of the desperation with which he seeks the high office of prime minister, even if in doing so he kicks the fundamental principles and “basic features” of the Constitution of India down the communal cauldron.

Clearly, unable during the NDA regime led by the BJP (1999-2004) to conclude a successful communal review of the Constitution (for which a high-powered Commission was indeed set up), Advani has thought it best to obtain the same result as part of campaign strategy.

It is much to be hoped that the full significance of all this registers on those well-wishers of the Republic whose life-interests tend to make them lackadaisically certain that cunningly smirking faces do not harbour intentions of the most regressive consequence to India’s hard-earned secular democracy and secular citizenship, or to the sequestration of the state from allegiance to any religion or religion-based form of legislative or administrative culture. Or, in the final analysis, of the subservience of secular governance to religious diktat.

Given the continued supremacy of the RSS over the political/electoral career of the BJP, the letter in question must seem an ominous proof of what Advani intends under RSS tutelage, namely to reformulate the nation and the state along Hindutva-theocratic principles of belief and practice.

III

It is to be seen whether or not the Election Commission of India, charged with the task of ensuring that all provisions of electoral law as codified in the Representation of People’s Act, and under the primary injunctions of the Constitution, are observed by Parties and candidates at election time, will take notice of the magnitude of offence that the Advani letter comprises.

After all, one of the first injunctions of electoral law in India is that no appeal shall be made to religion or religious authority for electoral gain. That the Advani letter should in black and white give religious leaders the “assurance” that an institutionalized “consultative mechanism” shall be put in place by him as prime minister to conduct the governance of the state in deference to their advice surely must be seen by the Election Commission for what it is: namely, not only to alter and subvert electoral laws but the state itself.

Many in India will wait to see what public reaction the Advani move will elicit, and, more particularly, what implications this will or will not have first for his candidature and then for the nature of politics in India. And whether or not Public Interest Litigation, or other legal remedies will be sought.

It will also be instructive to see how the electronic media in India deal with this unprecedented departure from Constitutional sanctity and legitimacy.


Narendra Modi, the Anti-Muslim Politician of India

March 30, 2009

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By Abhay Singh | Bloomberg.com

March 30 (Bloomberg) — As Narendra Modi, chief minister of the state of Gujarat, walks into a cavernous tent filled with 20,000 investors and business leaders in western India, he’s greeted like a Bollywood movie star. Conference goers surround the politician to shake hands, snap photos and touch his shoes — a show of reverence in India.

After the January conference gets under way in the city of Ahmedabad, billionaire Anil Ambani, whose empire ranges from telecommunications to financial services, steps to the lectern. He praises Modi, 58, for turning Gujarat into India’s top destination for investors before paying the Hindu nationalist the ultimate compliment: He should be prime minister.

Since Modi became head of Gujarat in 2001, he’s lured investors with a rapid approval process for developments, a network of roads and ports and uninterrupted power supply — a rarity in India.

“If Narendra Modi can do so much for Gujarat, imagine the possibility for India by having him as the next leader of India,” Ambani says.

Some 40 kilometers (25 miles) from the conference, in a Muslim ghetto called Juhapura on the outskirts of Ahmedabad, Modi’s name isn’t celebrated. He’s a top official in the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), or Indian People’s Party, which opposes special treatment from the government of any one religious group, including Muslims.

Contaminated Food

For the 700,000 residents of Juhapura, the water runs only 15 minutes a day, potholed asphalt roads are lined with rubble and government-subsidized shops sell contaminated flour and rice that make people sick, says Mohammad Ishaq Sayed, a tailor who lives with his family of six in a one-room, 100- square-foot (9.3-square-meter) apartment.

“We live in Gujarat and still we get nothing,” says Sayed, 53, sitting in a plastic chair outside his apartment, where naked electrical wires snake along the walls. “Why is there no development for us? What enmity do they have with us? We are Muslims, that’s why.”

As India continues to tally the economic costs from the terror attacks by Islamic militants that killed 164 people in Mumbai in November, Modi stands out as a symbol of a nation that, 62 years after independence, has yet to come to grips with a sectarian divide that’s fueled decades of violent riots and the marginalization of Muslims.

Shut Out

The 158.6 million Muslims, which account for 13.4 percent of India’s population of about 1.2 billion, are among the poorest people in the country. They are shut out of jobs and unable to get equal access to education, according to a 2006 government-sponsored report. At state-run companies such as banks and railways, Muslims make up only 4.9 percent of the workforce.

Thirty-eight percent of them live in such deprivation that they consume less than 2,100 calories of food a day, the report says. By comparison, 20 percent of Hindus living in cities don’t receive proper nutrition.

Alakh Sharma, director of the Institute for Human Development, a New Delhi-based group that studies labor markets, development policy and education, says India’s exclusion of Muslims from the mainstream hampers its economic growth.

“If 13 percent of the population is alienated and doesn’t become part of the economic process, how will the country continue to grow?” Sharma says. “It’ll affect demand for goods and become a source of conflict and strife.”

‘Scary Prospect’

In more than two decades in the BJP, during which time he’s ascended to the position of general secretary, the third- highest rank, Modi has been in the middle of the sectarian conflict whose origins go back centuries.

Modi helped organize a campaign in 1990 for the BJP leader to drum up support for building a Hindu temple at the site of a Muslim mosque in the state of Uttar Pradesh, according to his Web site, narendramodi.in. In Gujarat alone, the BJP campaign spurred 1,520 violent incidents between Hindus and Muslims from April 1990 through April ‘91, according to a report by the New Delhi-based Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies.

“Modi’s rise is a very scary prospect for India,” says Shabnam Hashmi, an atheist who runs Act Now for Harmony and Democracy, a group started to counter sectarian politics in India. “He polarizes people by promoting the ideology of hate.” Jagdish Thakkar, Modi’s public relations officer, didn’t respond to several requests for an interview.

Rampaging Mobs

In February 2002, four months after Modi took control of Gujarat, Hindu mobs went on a rampage against Muslims after a fire on a train claimed 58 lives, among them Hindu pilgrims. In the riots that followed, more than 1,000 people were killed, mostly Muslims, while Modi allegedly instructed police to stand down and allow the violence to continue, according to an investigation by the eight-member Concerned Citizens Tribunal. The group, with no legal standing, was made up of former judges, professors and a retired police officer.

“If you are a minority you are pushed to the brink and treated like dirt in this state,” says Cedric Prakash, a Jesuit priest who runs a human rights center in Ahmedabad.

Modi has denied the allegations from the citizens group and critics.

“My future will be determined by the people of Gujarat,” Modi said at a conference sponsored by the Hindustan Times newspaper in October 2007. “In a democracy, criticism is welcome, but I am against the allegations.” The Supreme Court of India is still investigating the riots.

Holy War

The killings in Gujarat partly inspired Lashkar-e-Taiba, an Islamic militant group based in Pakistan, to launch its holy war against India, according to a study on the Web site of the Asia-Pacific Center for Security Studies, a U.S. Department of Defense institute in Honolulu.

In November, 10 members of Lashkar-e-Taiba attacked two luxury hotels, a Jewish center, a cafe and railway station in Mumbai, according to Indian officials. In a massacre that shook India, the terrorists killed 164 people, including 26 foreigners. Earlier in 2008, the Muslim group Indian Mujahideen claimed responsibility for a series of bombings in three Indian cities.

The spate of violence weighs heavily on Indians as they elect a new prime minister starting in mid-April. The BJP is attacking the ruling Indian National Congress party for being soft on terrorism. The government of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, 76, has delayed the hanging of a convicted Muslim terrorist sentenced to death in 2002 — a fact that the BJP’s candidate, Lal Krishna Advani, 81, rails against on the campaign trail.

Slowing Economy

The BJP is trying to return to power after a six-year term from 1998 to 2004, during which time it stiffened prison penalties for terrorists and lengthened the maximum detention period for suspects who hadn’t been charged to 180 days.

“People lived under six years of a BJP government, but the end of terrorism was not one of its achievements,” says Mahesh Rangarajan, a professor of modern Indian history at Delhi University. “The terrorism card that the BJP could cash in on is gone.”

India’s economic downturn may be an even bigger election issue in a country where voters have regularly rejected incumbents, Rangarajan says. The economy grew 5.3 percent from October through December, the weakest pace since the last quarter of 2003. The recessions in the U.S. and Europe, combined with the terrorist strikes in 2008, are taking a toll on India’s tourist industry.

Partition

The number of visitors to the country plunged 12 percent in February compared with a year earlier. A February poll by an Indian affiliate of CNN showed that neither party would gain 50 percent of the vote, forcing the winner to cobble together a coalition government.

The divide between Hindus, who make up 80.5 percent of the population, and Muslims runs deep. In the 16th century, the Mughals, an Islamic dynasty, took over and ruled the land until the British made the subcontinent a part of its empire three centuries later. Before Britain relinquished control of India in 1947, it partitioned the nation into Muslim Pakistan and Hindu-majority India to buffer historical conflicts.

Eleven million Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs were uprooted, seeking refuge in one of the two countries and clashing along the way. The violence took 500,000 lives. Since the 1960s, there have been at least four major sectarian battles each decade in India, spurred by everything from a Muslim’s cow entering a Hindu’s house to conflicts over religious sites.

‘This is Not Our Country’

Muslims, fearing violence, tend to live together in small clusters in places like the Byculla area in Mumbai and the neighborhood of Nizamuddin in New Delhi, according to the 2006 report sponsored by the Singh government, “Social, Economic and Educational Status of the Muslim Community in India.” In Ahmedabad, Gujarat’s largest city, where investors have backed new malls with big grocery and electronics stores and movie multiplexes, some apartment complexes are off-limits to Muslims, according to the rules of occupancy set by building owners.

Activist Hashmi says her family, because of its Muslim name, has felt unwelcome in parts of New Delhi. In 2003, her daughter, then 7 years old, came home from school after being verbally attacked.

“Another girl told her that we should go live in Afghanistan, this is not our country,” Hashmi says.

Finding Jobs

Muslims also face obstacles in finding employment at state-run companies, which provide 70 percent of the full-time jobs with benefits in India, the report says. At Indian Railways, one of the country’s largest employers, with 1.4 million workers, Muslims make up only 4.5 percent of the total. Among civil service officers — bureaucrats, diplomats and police — 3.2 percent are Muslim. At banks such as State Bank of India, the No. 1 lender, the figure drops to just 2.2 percent. Of the 30 companies in the Bombay Stock Exchange’s benchmark Sensitive Index, only one — software services provider Wipro Ltd. — is led by a Muslim, billionaire Azim Premji.

The report recommends that employers include Muslims in hiring to increase their numbers.

“A very small proportion of government employees are Muslims, and on average, they are concentrated in lower-level positions,” the report says. “While no discrimination is being alleged, it may be desirable to have minority persons on relevant interview panels.”

Drop Outs

Dev Desai, an economics undergraduate student at GLS College in Ahmedabad, encountered discrimination recently when trying to get a Muslim friend and fellow student a job.

“I spoke to some people and told them she was from my college and studies with me,” says Desai, a Hindu. “On hearing her name, they asked if she is Muslim. When I said yes, they told me to let it be.”

The minority group lags behind in education as well, partly because of a shortage of schools that teach in Urdu, a language used by Muslims. As many as 25 percent of Muslim children ages 6-14 never attend school or drop out. Muslim kids in the Juhapura ghetto face another issue: Their school is in a Hindu area.

“Some children are afraid and don’t go,” says Niaz Bibi, a resident and mother. “Their thinking is, we’ll never get a job so why study? Might as well learn a vocation like fixing cars.”

Bollywood

In top colleges offering science, arts, commerce and medical courses, only 1 in 25 undergraduate students is Muslim.

“This has serious long-term implications for the economic empowerment of the community and consequently for economic development of the country,” the report says.

India has put aside its sectarian differences in a few areas, such as its movie industry. Muslim film celebrities Shah Rukh Khan, a romantic leading man also known as “King Khan,” and Aamir Khan often top the box office. Aamir Khan starred in Bollywood’s biggest hit of 2008, Ghajini. While Indians have never elected a Muslim prime minister, lawmakers have selected three Muslim presidents, the titular head of government, including A.P.J. Abdul Kalam from ‘02 to ‘07.

Modi mocked the government report, which was chaired by retired judge Rajindar Sachar, at a conference sponsored by India Today magazine in March 2008.

Spiraling Investments

“Mr. Sachar came to see me and asked, ‘Mr. Modi, what has your government done for Muslims?’ I said, ‘I’ve done nothing,’” Modi said. “Then I said, ‘Please also note that I’ve done nothing for Hindus either. I work for the people of Gujarat.’”

As head of the state, Modi has spurred a construction boom by attracting a slew of investors, including Sabeer Bhatia, co-founder of e-mail service Hotmail. Investors pledged $243 billion to Gujarat at the 2009 Vibrant Gujarat Global Investors’ Summit in January, a 60 percent jump from the previous event in 2007. In a country infamous for bureaucratic red tape, Gujarat lures investors with a streamlined process requiring developers to get approval for major projects at only one agency, the Gujarat Infrastructure Development Board.

Tata Group, the $62.5 billion conglomerate that owns everything from salt to software companies, got permission from the state to build a plant to produce the $2,500 Nano, the cheapest car in the world, in three days.

Hindu Nationalist

“Most of us in India have come to regard a time frame of six months or three months as an average time to get clearances,” Ratan Tata, chairman of Tata Group, said from the stage at the January conference in Ahmedabad. “In this particular case, that tradition was shattered, and we had our land and most of our approvals in three days. That, in my experience, has never happened before.”

After Tata’s speech, Modi walked toward the lectern and gave the executive a hug before addressing the crowd himself.

“Even in a recession, companies aren’t going to stop manufacturing,” he said. “They will prefer a destination where low-cost manufacturing is possible. This is a chance for a country like India, if we can provide a low-cost manufacturing environment, to grab this opportunity.”

Modi joined the burgeoning Hindu nationalist movement as a teenager after growing up in a family of modest means; his father ran a tea stall at Vadnagar railway station in Gujarat, according to a 2007 article in the Times of India.

Ideological Fraternity

After completing his master’s degree in political science at Gujarat University in the 1970s, he became a member of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, or National Volunteers Corps, his Web site says. The RSS advocates that Hinduism is central to Indian culture and life.

At the time, northern India was recovering from a famine and sectarian violence was rising: 500 people were killed in Ahmedabad in 1969. Members of the still active RSS take part in regular military-style parades, drills and exercises dressed in white shirts and khaki shorts. The RSS, which hatched political groups that would coalesce into the BJP in 1980, remains the fount of the party’s ideas.

“The RSS ideology is all about cultural nationalism,” says Prakash Javadekar, spokesman for the BJP and a member of India’s upper house of parliament. “We are an ideological fraternity.”

Babri Mosque

The BJP built itself into a national power starting in the late 1980s with a campaign to construct a temple where a mosque stood in Ayodhya, Uttar Pradesh. Modi, who joined the BJP in 1987, helped organize a 10,000-kilometer journey for Advani, now the BJP’s candidate for prime minister, to rally support for the temple and the party. Advani’s trip in a truck, with the bed trussed up to resemble a chariot from Hindu mythology, was scheduled to end at the site of the mosque.

Hindus believe the site was the birthplace of the Hindu god Ram and that a temple once stood there until Muslim invaders destroyed it in the 16th century and built the Babri Mosque.

Advani’s journey was cut short when authorities arrested him in the state of Bihar in October 1990. According to Advani’s Web site, he was arrested by political foes who opposed a resurgence of nationalism in India. Two years later, Hindu mobs tore down the mosque, fomenting riots in Mumbai that claimed more than 1,000 lives, mostly Muslims.

Train Fire

The temple campaign catalyzed Hindu support across India for the BJP, which won its first national election in 1996 and its second in ‘98.

“Communal violence in the last two decades is a result of the manipulation of religious sentiments by Hindu right- wing organizations for political gains,” according to the Institute of Peace & Conflict Studies report. “The politicization of the temple-mosque issue and the subsequent demolition of the mosque gave the BJP the opportunity to consolidate its vote bank.”

Javadekar rejects that claim, saying the Congress Party’s sectarian politics and favoritism toward minorities poses the biggest danger to India. Javadekar says the BJP supports the equal treatment of all religious groups in India.

“That means you do justice to all and appeasement of none,” he says.

The 2002 riots in Gujarat began with a fire in a train coach carrying Hindu pilgrims returning from Ayodhya. A commission set up by the Gujarat government said that Muslims set the fire after an altercation at the station between some pilgrims and Muslim vendors.

Lost Everything

The report of the citizens tribunal, which was released in October ‘02 and based on about 2,000 interviews, shows the fire started within the coach and was not deliberate, says Ghanshyam Shah, a social scientist who was a member of the tribunal.

As news of the fire spread through the state, Hindu mobs surrounded Muslim neighborhoods, destroyed houses with homemade bombs, raped and killed women and butchered men, according to the three-volume report of the citizens tribunal.

“We escaped with just the clothes on our backs,” says Sayed, the tailor in Juhapura. “Everything was destroyed. Our house was torn down, and all our possessions were stolen.”

Sayed, his wife and three sons were rescued by a Muslim police officer and taken to a camp outside Juhapura.

“The Muslim officer risked himself and brought us to the camp,” Sayed says.

Police Don’t Arrive

The police didn’t respond to calls for help from many Muslims, according to the report. It details the murder of Ahsan Jafri, a former member of parliament from the Congress Party.

The attack on the neighborhood where Jafri lived in Ahmedabad began on the morning of Feb. 28, 2002. A high- ranking police official visited Jafri at 10:30 a.m. and assured him that police reinforcements were on the way to quell the riots. The police never came even after Jafri’s desperate phone calls to Modi’s office and the police. Jafri was dragged out of his home and killed in the afternoon, as were others who had taken shelter in his house, the report says.

Three years later, in 2005, the U.S. State Department denied Modi a diplomatic visa and revoked his existing one under a section of the Immigration and Nationality Act that bars entry of foreign officials who are complicit in severe violations of religious freedom.

‘Absence of Healing’

“The violence in Gujarat in 2002 was extremely serious; it went on for months,” says Delhi University’s Rangarajan. “If you travel in the hinterland of Gujarat, what is more serious is the absence of a healing process.”

In 2008, six years after the riots, the Supreme Court of India formed a special team to investigate the violence. In February, the team arrested Deputy Superintendent of Police K.G. Erda, the officer in charge of the area where Jafri lived, for dereliction of duty and abetment of murder, according to Mitesh Amin, Erda’s lawyer. Erda has been released on bail, and the Supreme Court has halted the trial, Amin says.

In March, investigators submitted their confidential report to the court, which asked the Gujarat government to file a response by April 13.

The 2002 riots shouldn’t taint Modi’s reputation as a good administrator, says Ajit Gulabchand, managing director of Mumbai-based Hindustan Construction Co. The company is building an $8 billion waterfront development in Dholera, an industrial and business hub.

Carnegie Mellon University

“What happened was terrible,” Gulabchand says. “The question is, Are we moving on? Here is somebody who welcomes people and creates an atmosphere for business and other investments to thrive.”

Yogesh Patel and his business partner, Hotmail’s Bhatia, are also bullish on Gujarat. They’re building university campuses in Dholera and have partnered with Carnegie Mellon University to open a graduate school there.

During a meeting last year, after Patel told Modi about the potential for generating solar energy in northern Gujarat, the chief minister immediately called in a bureaucrat and asked him to get working on a plan.

“It’s like dealing with a private enterprise and talking to a CEO,” Patel says.

‘Modi Has to Evolve’

While political analysts say Modi is a possible future candidate for prime minister, he would face hostility from Muslims. “God will bring Modi down one day,” Sayed says.

In states with large Muslim populations, where they comprise more than 15 percent, Modi would have to soften his anti-Muslim image.

“Modi’s problem is very real,” Rangarajan says. “Modi has to evolve.”

In Ahmedabad’s Juhapura ghetto, Hindus built a 10-foot- high wall with barbed wire at the top to separate themselves from Muslims. The wall is a reminder of the issues confronting Modi and his party as they vie to rule India again.

To contact the reporter on this story: Abhay Singh in New Delhi at abhaysingh@bloomberg.net.

Last Updated: March 29, 2009 17:00 EDT


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