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By Vijaylakshmi Nadar, Edited By Adam Rizvi, TIO: If there is anything that the Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi fears, it is international condemnation, against his authoritarian rule, which is threatening to dismantle the democratic, constitutional structure of the country. Though every effort has been made to subvert democratic institutions in the country, including the media, judiciary, bureaucracy, and the law enforcing agencies in the country, efforts are also being made to ensure that news of this downgrading from a “fully free country” to a “partially free country”, does not impact his reputation abroad.
To ensure this, the “Hindu” organizations in the US and other Western countries, which till 2014, were concerned with Hindu centric religious activities and festivals, suddenly got co-opted into the more aggressive, hate-filled political entity Hindutva narrative. Instead of talking about “Hinduism”, the talks, activities, now centre around protecting the interests of the extreme right-wing Hindu leader in power in India.
This is the second part of a five-part series, which looks at this curious but dangerous phenomenon, which seeks to brainwash the Indian diaspora, under cover of religion, risking their own existence in the process.
Not surprisingly, while HAF projects that only Hindus were raped and killed in the Bangladesh genocide, it constantly tries to project otherwise in the 2002 Gujarat pogrom and 2020 Delhi pogrom, when questioned about it, here HAF insists that the riots were spontaneous in which both Hindus and Muslims suffered. When they were challenged by several national and international reports to the contrary, including a report by the Concerned Citizens Tribunal of the Gujarat pogrom, it was publicly scorned by HAF founder member Dr Aseem Shukla.
A similar stance was taken by HAF members during the 2020 Delhi pogrom. During both the pogroms, which went on for days while the police simply watched, Hindu fundamentalists went around with lists in their hands, identifying Muslim homes, pulling them out, raping women and burning children alive. As the chief minister of Gujarat, Modi could not stop the media outrage that followed and the investigations by human rights activists and citizens that happened.
But in the case of Delhi, with Modi as the prime minister and Amit Shah as the home minister, a lot of the information was suppressed and national media coverage distorted. There is however still sufficient evidence against them, in both the pogroms, which the victims are hopeful will see the light someday soon and they will be convicted.
The Modi administration did all it could to block the prosecution for over five years. It is the sheer determination of the human rights community that ensured that FIRs were filed and the case brought against one of the key conspirators Maya Kodnani in the Naroda Patiya massacre.
In total disregard to investigations in the riots, the Modi administration raised Kodnani to the level of a minister in 2007, five years after the carnage when it was common knowledge in Gujarat that she had been one of most prominent perpetrators of the violence.
The task of prosecuting her became more difficult after that and again it was the perseverance of human rights activists that ensured that the case progressed. Finally in 2009, after intense pressure from the human rights community, Kodnani resigned, faced trial and in 2011 was convicted. Her conviction is a testament of the tenacity of the human rights activist community in India, which is working to this day on some of the matters. The most prominent being the case of murder of Congress minister Ehsan Jaffri and 160 other women and children who had taken refuge at his home in Gulmerg Colony. They were all burned, raped and Jaffri quartered and burnt.
In other words, the most successful prosecution of a perpetrator happened not because of the State but despite it.
Despite the attempts of the Modi administration to ensure that news about his government’s atrocities are not reported, by the national and international media, information has still been getting out, courtesy the alternate media, through social media. The government is now trying to bring in legislation to curb their voice as well.
These atrocities ranging from lynchings, to rapes, to the atrocities on Dalits, arrest of dissenters against the government, including university students have all been recorded in detail, in the 2019 Report on Religious Rights Freedom, by the US Department of State.
The HAF came into existence in 2003, ostensibly “to educate about Hindus and Hinduism”. They have claimed on their website that “HAF is politically agnostic and non-partisan” and “do not favor and cannot endorse any one political party or any candidates”. They claim to be pluralistic, not affiliated with any religious or political organizations or entities.
And yet all their activities, especially after 2014 has been centered around, defending the atrocities against the minorities and the gross human rights violations by the Indian government headed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), an extreme right-wing, Hindu nationalist party. Any attempts to criticise Modi and his extremist policies, is immediately dismissed as Hinduphobia by the members of HAF, even when well supported by facts from credible sources.
Going back a few decades, when Indians first started immigrating to the US in the 60’s and 70’s, one of the first things they started was places of worship, around which their social and religious lives revolved. Since the numbers were small, the Indians irrespective of religious differences were a close-knit community, with Pakistani’s and Bangladeshi’s joining them as well, whether it was in their cultural events or joint businesses.
The highlights of this South Asian diaspora were the Bollywood song and dance events, which provided much of the entertainment.
Discussions on politics were limited and despite political upheavals back home, Indians were able to laugh it off with their Pakistani and Bangladeshi brothers.
However when the Babri Masjid was demolished by Hindu extremists in Ayodhya, sparking off massive riots in India, there was a massive shift in the US as well. However, there was still a bond despite the unease, because of the lack of social media.
There was yet another massive upheaval in the Indian community after the 2002 Gujarat pogrom. It ended with 1,044 dead, 223 missing, and 2,500 injured. Of the dead, 790 were Muslim and 254 Hindu. The Concerned Citizens Tribunal Report (CCT) estimated that as many as 1,926 may have been killed. Other sources estimated death tolls in excess of 2,000. Many brutal killings and rapes were reported, as well as widespread looting and destruction of property, where several fingers fingers point to Modi who was the chief minister of Gujarat then.
The extensive national and international coverage caused severe friction in the Indian diaspora. The riots were seen as a consequence of the deaths of kar sevaks (one who offers services for a religious cause for free) returning from Ayodhya, who were supposedly set on fire in their train compartment by Modi’s supporters. Many Hindus were compelled to take a stance in support of the Hindu extremists, even when it became obvious that they were responsible for the riots.
Most are in complete denial, despite compelling evidence, submitted by several advocacy groups, as to how the pogrom was pre-planned and Hindu extremists given a free hand to loot, plunder and kill. IPS officer Sanjiv Bhatt testified that he was specifically instructed to step back and allow the carnage, and now in prolonged custody, without bail, for the effort. They are also in denial of how the investigations were handled, and courts manipulated and justice has given only by courts outside Gujarat.
Also, Read: 2002 Gujarat Genocide – 19 Years Later
After the state-appointed Special Investigation Team (SIT), gave Modi a clean chit for obvious reasons, despite sufficient evidence to prosecute him, his supporters in India and abroad declared it as a proof of his innocence. Besides trying to portray him as a victim of a vicious negative campaign against him.
That pogrom for which he should have been prosecuted, instead gave him the fillip to be projected as a strong leader in India, which had its repercussions in the US as well.
A few years before Atal Bihari Vajpayee also of the BJP became the prime minister in 1998, when on a visit to the US, he met some of the BJP loyalists here, he asked them to start an overseas wing of the BJP.
The Overseas Friends of BJP was thus started by mostly first-generation immigrants, who had come to the US in the 60’s and the 70’s. They were mostly Gujrati businessmen, who met, organized campaigns for Modi to become the CM and later the PM as well. But they had little said in American politics.
The HAF on the other hand was founded by second-generation articulate, rich, highly qualified Indians, born here. HAF started within months of the Gujarat pogrom when there was a lot of negative media interest in Modi, the world over.
Though the founders claimed to be non-partisan and apolitical, all their energies were focussed on supporting Modi, at congressional meetings here.
If there is anything that scares Modi, it is the international outrage against him. In organizations like HAF, he has talented, accomplished voices, which can campaign for him for free, iron out the creases in his reputation abroad. To present to the world, a compulsive liar, corrupt and incompetent leader to the world as a ‘great leader’. The HAF members on the other hand were thrilled to have a special audience with the prime minister of their home country, everytime he was in the US, besides seeking valuable suggestions from them on controversial bills like the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA). One of the co-founders of HAF, Aseem Shukla recounted how he had worked with Hindu refugees from across the border in Jodhpur and communicated to the PM that they needed help. He also claims to have communicated to the PM, not to exclude the minorities, which was of course ignored.
Not only were they white washing Modi’s reputation here, HAF and the other organizations of the Sangh Parivar, including the Hindu SwayamSevak (HSS), the international wing of the RSS, the Vishwa Hindu Parishad America (VHPA), the Overseas Friends of BJP (OFBJP) also started to identify candidates who could “earn them rich dividends,” by representing them in the congress. Tulsi Gabbard, who is not born Indian, practices Hinduism, became their favorite presidential candidate. But when civil rights activists here went after her, accusing her of being funded by the BJP/RSS, HAF also went after them to accuse them of being Islamists, suffering from Hinduphobia.
Similar accusations were made when these activists went after Sri Preston Kulkarni, congressional candidate from Houston, Padma Kuppa, House of representatives, Michigan, congressman Raja Krishnamurti and a few others. They also expressed their distress against Pramila Jayapal, and Ro Khanna, for not standing up for their “Hindu” families.
They were both targeted for holding anti-Modi views, just before their elections. For probably the first time, Indian Americans, pointed out there are about three million Indians, out of which one million are eligible voters, and many districts in the US, in New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Florida, Texas, Indians dominate districts and can impact the result there. According to Suhag Shukla in one of the virtual talk shows, warning messages went out to Biden, especially from his constituency in Delaware, not to speak anything against India or Modi to upset his chances. Of course notwithstanding the fact that not every Indian, even Hindus are fascinated by Modi the way she and her friends are. This kind of pressure has never been exerted on American political candidates before.
In yet another talk show, Dr Aseem Shukla, mentioned how he had known Surgeon General Vivek Murthy for over 40 years, having grown up in the same Indian community. There is no saying what kind of influence HAF members will exert on the President, through `good friends’ like Dr. Murthy. One of the hosts of the show was Samir Kalra, who is also associated with HAF.
Several Indo-American media outlets have therefore been pressed into service by the Hindutva lobby in the US. They are now ranting against prestigious mainstream media publications like Washington Post, New York Times, Wall Street Journal among others, equating coverage against the Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi as “Hinduphobia’.
Read More from this Author: Consequences of Xenophobic Leadership in the World’s Largest Democracies
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