[read the original statement at stopfundinghate.org]
A virtual melee has ensued in print and digital media over the selection of Ms. Sonal Shah, an American of Indian origin to the Obama transition team’s advisory board. Shrill accusations of Ms. Shah being a “racist and Hindu chauvinist” are being reciprocated by equally shrill attempts to portray anyone who raises serious questions about the selection as being anti-India, anti-Hindu, anti-progress, and recently, as against “liberal civility.” We condemn such baseless and unfair statements.
At the outset we wish to acknowledge that Ms. Shah has had a record of being a visible and an important face of the “desi American” community – a successful professional, and a politically and socially engaged citizen.
We are also happy to note at least one positive effect from this debate. Even as this issue gets played out on public fora, the din of militant Hindutva drumbeats has suffered some dampening. Almost all participants, including those who have come out in support of Ms. Shah, have said that the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) and the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) — both integral to the Hindutva movement, are part of the “politics of hate” that must be resisted. We wish such statements had come much earlier, such as the time when people were being butchered in Gujarat, or when Indicorps (an organization Ms. Shah co-founded) was felicitated by Mr. Narendra Modi, Chief Minister of Gujarat.
Ms. Shah has become something of a point of pride for many Americans with origins in India. But Ms. Shah does have feet that leave tracks, has written words that have been archived, and has occupied offices of responsibility. We wish to explore this material record below by examining two of the most persuasive claims made by supporters of Ms. Shah. These are:
- That accusations of Ms. Shah being a closet Hindutva ideologue amount to “guilt by association“, a reference to the fact that her father Mr. Ramesh Shah has well documented leadership roles within the Sangh Parivar (Collective Family, the name for the set of organizations of Hindutva).
- That Ms. Shah’s only association with the Vishwa Hindu Parishad of America (VHPA) was in the context of the Gujarat earthquake; surely, she cannot be faulted for not picking the right organization when urgent action was the need of the hour.
Our claims of Ms. Shah’s Hindutva associations are not based on guilt by association. Instead, we ask: What organizational and ideological work did Ms. Shah perform for and as part of the VHPA?
We have archived records demonstrating that Ms. Shah was a part of VHPA’s leadership group–the governing council and chapter presidents/coordinators. She participated in strategy discussions with prominent leaders of the Sangh Parivar. Ms. Shah was not just a bystander, she was considered important and trustworthy enough by the Hindutva leadership to be included in a core group with Ajay Shah, Gaurang Vaishnav, Mahesh Mehta, Yashpal Lakra, Vijay Pallod, Shyam Tiwari, and others. Does Ms. Shah deny that she played such a role? Even in light of the recent public statement by Gaurang Vaishnav, General Secretary of the VHPA, that Ms. Shah was made a member of the governing council as she came out of college?
We are glad to hear Ms. Shah assert that her “personal politics have nothing in common with the views espoused by the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), or any such organization“, and that she does not “subscribe to the views of such Hindu nationalist groups.” However, in view of her close association with VHPA, as summarized above, Ms. Shah’s claim to have “never” subscribed to such Hindu nationalist views strains credulity.
Ms. Shah’s participation in the VHPA Governing Council predates by a few years her position as National Coordinator of VHPA’s Gujarat earthquake activities in 2001. The position of earthquake relief coordinator doesn’t seem to be an easy one to ascend to — VHPA’s website states that “national projects are executed by a committee of members drawn from the Governing Council and the various chapters.” Thus, Ms. Shah’s coordination of VHPA earthquake relief seems to have built upon her earlier leadership role within the VHPA. We do not know when/if her affiliation with the VHPA ceased, but VHPA media secretary Shyam Tiwari has recently claimed: “Sonal was a member of VHP of America at the time of the earthquake. Her membership has [now] expired.”
A note about Ms. Shah’s earthquake relief work. Calamities such as the 2001 Bhuj earthquake often bring out the best in humans, but the Sangh Parivar is notorious for using such moments instrumentally and cynically for advancing its violent ideological agenda. An ordinary donor or fund-raiser can be excused for not knowing the Sangh agenda, but for someone like Ms. Shah, who grew up in a family deeply rooted in the Sangh Parivar, it is more than a little disingenuous to claim that such fund-raising was apolitical or neutral. There are numerous documented instances of the Sangh Parivar’s religion- and caste-based discrimination in doling out relief. Therefore we are shocked that Ms. Shah has expressed pride in coordinating relief work (under the ambit of VHPA) following the Gujarat earthquake of 2001. The relief work coordinated by the VHP is known to have rebuilt villages in the Kutch region exclusively for caste Hindus while marginalizing lower caste Hindus and Muslims to the periphery. The VHP thus took the opportunity of the earthquake to re-create multi-ethnic villages into exclusive Hindu spaces. In addition, given the pivotal role played by the VHP and other Sangh organizations in the 2002 anti-Muslim pogrom, we fear her pride is entirely misplaced.
Although we appreciate the positive influence Ms. Shah has had on many second-generation desis, we have a hard time forgetting the many victims of Hindutva. If Ms. Shah really wants to dispel doubts about her linkages with the VHPA and other Sangh Parivar outfits, we urge her to be more forthcoming in her condemnations of the Sangh Parivar, especially its branches in the United States since that has been the site of her involvement. Some ways for Ms. Shah to do this would be to:
- acknowledge her past organizational associations with the Sangh Parivar
- distance herself from the public reception reportedly planned by the RSS in her native village in Gujarat
- categorically condemn the role played by Hindutva forces in anti-minority violence in India, and the facilitation of this violence by funds sent through various Sangh Parivar affiliates in the United States
In Peace and Justice
Campaign to Stop Funding Hate
Ibrahim Junaid kept a beard and was very religious. In the wake of the Mecca Masjid explosions in Hyderabad, these were reasons enough for the police to dub him a terrorist, abduct him, torture him and put him in jail on framed charges. Now on bail, will his life get back on track?
Read in full here
[To sign on to this statement opposing censorship and intimidation of Arun Gandhi, see the directions here]
On January 7, 2008, Arun Gandhi, the grandson of Mahatma Gandhi and the founder/director of the M.K. Gandhi Institute for Nonviolence at the University of Rochester, wrote two paragraphs on the Washington Post blog, On Faith, titled “Jewish Identity Can’t Depend on Violence.” Within three weeks, Gandhi was forced to resign as Director after a storm of criticism that he was anti-Semitic by pro-Israel groups such as the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), the American Jewish Committee, and by pressure from the President of the University of Rochester, Joel Seligman. Why did these two paragraphs cause the resignation of Gandhi, a respected and renowned public figure who has worked for years to promote non-violence and inter-faith understanding, study racism and prejudice, and who grew up with the daily abuses of the apartheid regime in South Africa?
The title of Gandhi’s post, in itself, seems like a reasonable statement to make, one which would be true of any group. No group’s identity can depend on violence. In the article, which was quickly painted as “shameful” by Abraham Foxman, the national director of the Anti-Defamation League, Gandhi recognized the horror of the Holocaust but observed that legitimate sympathy for this past tragedy cannot mean blindness or justification for violence inflicted on another group in the present. This too, seems like a logical point, and one that has been made innumerable times by Jewish Americans and Israelis alike, including the children of Holocaust survivors, such as Dr. Norman Finkelstein. However, Finkelstein, author of The Holocaust Industry, also paid the price for his critical scholarship and was recently denied tenure for challenging pro-Israel propaganda and campaigns headed by Foxman and the ADL. Furthermore, many have also noted that the Palestinians who were dispossessed and exiled with the creation of the Israeli state in 1948, after World War II, were paying the price for a European tragedy that was not of their own making, what Gandhi called “a German burden.”
In the article, Gandhi advised those concerned about Jewish identity and the future of Israel to make genuine efforts toward peace and non-violence, rather than acquiring “weapons and bombs.” Israel is the only state with nuclear weapons in the Middle East, a little known fact that causes no hysteria about WMDs in the US, let alone sanctions or invasions. Gandhi noted that when he visited Israel in 2004, he observed their “superior weapons and armaments” that make it the most powerful and advanced military power in the region. His advice was simply to point out that it would be better for Israel to “share its technological advancement” with its poorer neighbors and build friendships, rather than live in a heavily armed fortress surrounded by a wall that has imprisoned Palestinians and expropriated their land. On the same trip to Israel-Palestine, Gandhi had urged Palestinians to engage in non-violent civil disobedience. Another, little known fact is that Palestinians do countless acts of non-violent resistance, and have for a long time, but they face Israeli tanks, U.S.-supplied F-16s and Apache helicopters. Rachel Corrie, an American peace activist, was killed by an Israeli bulldozer that drove over her while she was trying to protect a Palestinian house from being destroyed.
Gandhi actually posted an apology for what he called his “poorly worded” comments and wrote:
I do not believe and should not have implied that the policies of the Israeli government are reflective of the views of all Jewish people. Indeed, many are as concerned as I am by the use of violence for state purposes, by Israel and many other governments. I do believe that when a people hold on to historic grievances too firmly it can lead to bitterness and the loss of support from those who would be friends. But as I have noted in previous writings, the suffering of the Jewish people, particularly in the Holocaust, was historic in its proportions. While we must strive for a future of peace that rejects violence, it is also important not to forget the past, lest we fail to learn from it. Having learned from it, we can then find the path to peace and rejection of violence through forgiveness.
Yet President Seligman described the apology as “inadequate,” rather than supporting Gandhi’s freedom of speech. It was not enough for University of Rochester that he had been pressured to apologize. Gandhi’s resignation makes it clear that he was the latest casualty of the powerful and highly organized pro-Israel lobby in the U.S. that immediately deems any and all criticism of Israel’s policies as anti-Semitic. The irony is that in his post, Gandhi was actually noting the very phenomenon of a community overplaying its historic experience that was enacted in the vitriolic response of powerful and well-funded organizations created to silence and intimidate critics of Israel. Foxman is one of the staunchest apologists for Israel’s inhuman treatment of the Palestinians, about whom a Wall Street Journal editor once quipped: “he has become drunk with power…knowing he can label anyone who challenges him an anti-Semitic bigot.” One only needs to look at the hundreds of responses to Gandhi’s posting on the blog to realize that there were, in fact, countless letters supporting Gandhi and decrying the bullying tactics and censorship of the Israel lobby. Stephen Walt (Harvard) and John Mearsheimer (University of Chicago), authors of the much-publicized book, The Israel Lobby, know a thing or two about this repression. So does Jimmy Carter who was slammed as an anti-Semite after he published Palestine: Peace, not Apartheid.
It is shameful that groups such as the Hindu American Foundation who claim to promote “tolerance and understanding” would support such blatant censorship of Gandhi’s grandson. Perhaps they choose to ignore Mahatma Gandhi’s statement in 1946 that Jewish settlers “have erred grievously in seeking to impose themselves on Palestine with the aid of America and Britain and now with the aid of naked terrorism … Why should they resort to terrorism to make good their forcible landing in Palestine?” The HAF has chosen instead to ally itself with groups such as the ADL and to participate in the dishonest and cowardly silencing of any one who dares to criticize the racism and violence directed against Palestinians, Arabs, and Muslims. Hindu, Indian, South Asian groups that profess to support dialogue and mutual respect should respect the rights of individuals to freely express their views without fear of losing their jobs and being publicly defamed. Such actions are insulting to the memory of courageous leaders such as Mahatma Gandhi who risked their lives for national self-determination and an end to colonialism and racism. Like his grandfather, Arun Gandhi has paid a price for the larger principle of speaking out in support of justice and freedom.
The Indian political establishment has reacted with shock to the assassination of former Pakistan Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto in a suicide attack today. Terming it “a cowardly act by desperate individuals”, a senior Congress party leader expressed hope that the people of Pakistan would overcome this tragedy with maturity and poise. “When Indiraji was killed, Rajiv was a political greenhorn, but we stood by him and he soon matured into a great leader. And when Rajiv was killed, we hoped Sonia-ji would take over immediately. If she had done so, the Congress party would have reaped a massive sympathy vote in 1991 and would have been stronger than it is today.”
“Everybody reacts to grief differently, you can’t fault Sonia-ji for not taking reins of the party after the shocking loss of her husband”, another leader intervened. “But all said and done, we were always faithful to the family that has given its all to the party. Now, with Rahul being active politically and Priyanka ostensibly ready to jump in when necessary, we feel more secure than ever, the drubbing in Gujarat notwithstanding.”
The BJP reaction has so far been muted, save for a one-line press note: “The party extends its sympathies to the family of Ms. Bhutto and the people of Pakistan”. A source close to the party leadership said the party is torn between two camps:
i) the peacenik camp, which wants to play the gentleman and express sympathies & support;
ii) the Akhand Bharat camp which wants to exploit the ensuing turmoil to invade and annex Pakistan.
Our source confided:
The peacenik camp thinks an invasion would be quixotic, but the Akhand Bharat camp has the support of the BJP Chief Ministers of (the border states of) Gujarat and Rajasthan who think a cause for invasion can be manufactured. In fact, Narendra Modi was confident that if the Indian forces marched into Pakistan, they would be greeted as liberators. And Keshubhai Patel is Okay with this plan as long as Modi doesn’t lead them into Pakistan. VHP leader Praveen Togadia has also strongly supported the invasion on the grounds that if we were to take Pakistan now, Godse’s ashes can finally be immersed in the Indus river (while it’s a part of India, as he wished). Both camps have been lobbying hard, and senior RSS, VHP and BJP leaders are currently meeting to decide on the future course of action.
Senior leaders from Bhutto’s Pakistan Peoples Party have begun parleys to decide on the transfer of PPP leadership to one of Bhutto’s children. “It’s irresponsible to claim that any of them eat pork. They can soon learn to speak chaste Urdu and quote the scriptures as well. The PPP will stand by the Bhutto family in its hour of need“, one of the leaders said in a voice choked with emotion. “So what if they ate pork? Jinnah feasted on pork & wine, and spoke broken Urdu“, a bystander blurted out almost involuntarily and soon had to run for his dear life.
In the US, President Bush sported a stunned look and observed in a sombre tone:
More than six years ago, we asked the question, “Why do they hate us?” We now need to add to it another question, “Why do they hate those who work with us?” Three months ago, it was Abu Risha who paid the ultimate price. Now it’s the turn of Benazir Bhutto. I just posed these questions to God, I encourage you to do the same. In the meantime, I urge the people of Pakistan to show the same composure that we showed at a time of national tragedy.”
A White House spokesperson later clarified that when the President said “same composure“, he actually meant “same composure sans the Afghan bombing, suspension of civil liberties at home and so on“. A White House source confided on condition of anonymity that plans are afoot to soon launch “Operation Infinite Hatred” to hunt down every last one of the haters.
December 5, 2007
Shri N. Gopalaswami,
The Chief Election Commissioner,
The present chief minister, Gujarat, Shri Narendra Modi has reportedly used a blatantly communal angle in his speech at Mangrol in South Gujarat on December 4, 2007, saying that “Sonia Gandhi spoke of terrorism. But she has no right to talk of this the Congress in Gujarat is raising its voice on the Sohrabuddin issue. But it should explain what should be done to a man who stored illegal arms?? You tell me what should be done?” and the crowds reportedly shouted back, “kill him kill him”.
Sir, we believe that this is an open exhortation to violence, an illegal act by a person seeking re-election to a powerful and responsible position in the state. It also amounts to an Unconstitutional and Unhealthy attitude in a leading politician in a polity. We also believe that this amounts to blatant misuse of religion for political ends and is violative of the Election Code of Conduct since indirectly Shri Modi is only referring to ‘Sohrabuuddin’ a Muslim was killed and not of the manner in which his wife, Kauserbi, an innocent was killed as also was Tulsiram Prajapati, and Mahendra Kadhav, Ganesh Kunthe (in other incidents of encounters) . In any case, an illegal act by agents of the state (Modi and his chosen policemen) is illegal regardless of who the victim is and which community he/she hails from. To equate and justify a criminal act with a particular community is nothing short of introducing communal politics in the electoral arena and fomenting hatred against a section of our people.
Sir the Election Code of Conduct, Rule 1 (2) and 1 (3) in General Conduct clearly mentions this.
Thirdly, the crude stance of Shri Modi is contrary to what the state of Gujarat has stated on affidavit admitting the illegality of the killing of Sohrabuddin (the rape and) killing of his wife, Kauserbi and the similar illegal encounter killing of Tulsiram -all by policemen commandeered to do so!! in the Hon’ble Supreme Court indicating that Shri Modi is resorting to both desperate and unhealthy measures to garner votes. It also means that either the state of Gujarat is misleading the apex court, or the chief minister is so far veering from the truth to make cheap electoral forays!!
Fourthly, of the officially admitted 21 encounters in Gujarat between 2003 and 2007, in which 5 Hindus were also killed it is emerging that grossly unlawful and unconstitutional means have been used. Therefore, can the CM of a state justify illegal murder lawlessness and extrajudicial killings?? Does his speech not just violate the rule of law enshrined in the Indian constitute but criminal law and the election code of conduct?
We urge that action should be demanded and taken against him for fomenting hatred and violence against a particular community . We urge action by the Election Commission in this regard.
Sir, Gujarat has had a legacy of sever communal strife and polarisation since 2002 when one of the worst ever post Partition genocidal carnages took place. Even today victims live like refugees in their own land. There have been no attempts by the state to re locate them with dignity. Today’s blatantly crude, desperate and communally surcharged speech of Shri Modi is an attempt to bring Gujarat back to the dark abyss of violence and polarisation yet again. It is also an attempt to win an election by foul means if not fair!! As the Constitutional body in charge of the state we urge the Election Commission to step in sharply and clearly in this regard.
December 6th, a day that will live in infamy. Fifteen years after the Sangh Parivar demolished the 16th century Babri Masjid aided and abetted by those in power, and goaded on by those who went on to become deputy prime ministers and the like, the event remains a scar on the body politic. It marks the violent entry of the Sangh Parivar and its fascist project into the corridors of political power culminating in the rise of a BJP led government six years later. December 6th and the organized killings that followed in Bombay and other cities throughout North India, made the pogroms of Gujarat 2002 possible – from the relative margins of the political consciousness, an ethic that valorizes fascistic brutality, hate-filled visions of power, and an aggressive desire to dominate and crush those demonized as cultural others came to center stage where it continues to exist despite temporary setbacks. Three years into supposedly ‘secular’ UPA rule, and there is still no hope for justice for either the victims of 2002, nor those of 1992.
Yes, December 6th, 1992 is remembered all over India by Sangh Parivar supporters as a day when their repressed feelings of inadequacy got a small jolt of feigned manhood. But it is also remembered by Muslims and secular Indians, as a day that will live in infamy, and a day in which the quest for justice and equality should be energized.
A brief report on a demonstration led by TN Muslim Munnetra Kazhagam, in Nagapattinam, Tamil Nadu.
Around mid-day, it began. A stream of autos, motorbikes, and scooters with large black and white flags brought about a hundred slogan-chanting people from Nagore, a largely Muslim town, to the bus stand area in Nagai’s town center, in front of the courthouse. Here the caravan joined a couple of hundred people already assembled in front of the courthouse, as minivans and cars also brought in more people from other places. There were a large number of women who assembled on one side. Slogans were chanted, and after the loudspeaker jeep managed to navigate its way to the front of the demonstration at the polite urging of the organizers, the proceedings began. Several speeches followed interspersed with slogans.
Speakers reminded the demonstrators that their anger was against the Sangh Parivar and not Hindus. One speaker said Muslims sacrificed so much to bring freedom for the country and were yet treated worse than second class citizens in today’s India. There were several chants denouncing Advani, MM Joshi and Modi. There were also calls for rebuilding the Babri Masjid, and bringing the Sangh Parivar leaders and their foot-soldiers to justice.
A large police presence did not deter the demonstrators, and some of the police were also polite to demonstrators; one cop chatting with a man holding a TN-MMK flag smiled and asked him to raise the flag higher! After several speeches, the demonstration ended. From the intense passions visible in this demonstration, it is clear that December 6th will continue to be remembered as a symbol of the marginalization and oppression of Muslims throughout India.
Conspicuously absent was any contingent of leftist and liberal voices in solidarity. Nagai has a CPIM MLA, and the CPI has a strong, historical presence in this region and Thanjavur. Neither did the powerful DMK have any presence at the demonstration. Why did these parties not think it necessary to stand in solidarity with a significant part of their own constituency on an issue that they all theoretically agree on – the defense of secularism? It is this indifference that strengthens the view among Muslims that nobody but Muslims give a hoot about what is happening to them in this country.
A TOI report (reproduced below) hypothesizes on why Modi justified the killing of a Gujarati Muslim businessman, Sohrabuddin, and his wife, Kauserbi.
On Monday, Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi owned up to killing Sohrabuddin, saying he “got what he deserved”, to packed crowds at a rally in Mangrol, in south Gujarat. Within 24 hours, on Tuesday, the issue — an emotive one and seen as a return of the communal agenda — vanished from his speeches as he addressed rallies in central Gujarat, including Godhra.
But, this was no aberration: There is a method in Modi’s apparent madness. While in rebellion-ridden Saurashtra or Surat, where he has failed to cast a spell, he threw the Sohrabuddin bait; but once out of rebel strongholds, he bypassed Sohrabuddin and talked in general terms about terrorism.
In short, Sohrabuddin was the rallying point in places where Leuva Patels have risen in rebellion against Modi, and which didn’t see much bloodshed, post-Godhra. He resurrected Sohrabuddin, the man his government branded a terrorist and killed in a fake encounter, according to its own admission before SC.
Sohrabuddin’s dead wife Kauserbi has become Modi’s biggest weapon to fight the Congress/ rebels with, who are now fighting on Congress tickets mainly from Saurashtra and South Gujarat. Modi knows only too well that development won’t sell in these parts because the rebels have already burst his development bubble.
Places like Visavadar, in Junagadh, where a Keshubhai Patel man is fighting on a Congress ticket; Wadhwan in Surendranagar where rebel BJP MLA Dhanraj Kella is contesting as an Independent; Jamnagar and Mangrol in South Gujarat, are the places where Modi has told the crowds how his police killed Sohrabuddin. His speeches usually end with a submission: “The Congress is ruling at the Centre, it can hang me!”
But watch him in Panchmahals — where the intensity of riots in 2002 has ensured a clear polarisaton and there’s no sign of dissidence — and Modi is back with his tirade against terrorism, aimed a wooing back the estranged VHP members.
Social scientist Achyut Yagnik seems to concur:
In the 2002 elections, Hindutva forces were united. But during the past five years, three shades of Hindutva emerged — hardline, Modi’s own brand and soft Hindutva. Modi carried on with Gujarati pride factor for a long time, but he has now realised that his development plank is not working and he would have to speak the language of the hardliners. After all the cadre are mostly hardliners.
A few weeks ago, the Tehelka expose shocked many when Baju Bajrangi enthusiastically described slitting pregnant Muslim women. Now, by justifying the cold-blooded murder (archive) of a Muslim couple, Modi has once again shown himself to be no different. More suave than Bajrangi, of course, but that’s about it.
While the Arun Jaitleys of the Sangh would rather have Modi fulminate on Mohammad Afzal, Modi understandably preferred something local that he could take credit for. With the likes of Uma Bharti calling him a pseudo-Hindu, what better way to buttress his Hindutva credentials than asserting that his hands are bloodied? And now that he has been forced to back-track by the Election Commission, he has volunteered to hang Afzal!
Blood and gore are constant companions of Hindutva, more so in election times.
In the case of Sohrabuddin et al, the Gujarat government had admitted (archive) in the Supreme Court (on March 23, 2007) that there was prima facie evidence to suggest that the encounter in which alleged LeT operative Sohrabuddin Sheikh was killed in November 2005, was a ‘fake’. Two months later, Gujarat Inspector General of Police Geetha Johri’s report on the fake encounter pointed to the collusion of [the] State government in the form of Shri Amit Shah, MOS for Home and noted that the episode makes a complete mockery of the rule of law and is perhaps an example of the involvement of [the] State government in a major crime. (Also see the Wiki page and the chronology on NDTV)
Modi’s audacious claims on Sohrabuddin need to be seen against this backdrop:
“What should be done to a man who stored illegal arms and ammunition ?” Modi reportedly said. “You tell me what should have been done to Sohrabuddin ?… Hang me if I have done anything wrong.”
It’s almost as if Muslims are guilty until proved innocent, and if killed, guilty by definition. That he could whip up communal frenzy portends an ominous future for Gujarat:
He managed to whip up such a communal frenzy with his words that the crowd begin to chant “kill him, kill him” in response to Modi’s question on what should have been done to Sohrabuddin.
And when the people shouted “kill him”, Modi said: “Well, that is it. Do I have to take Sonia Gandhi’s permission to do this? Hang me if I have done anything wrong.”
As the elections approach, NRI sanghis have sought to aggressively market Modi as a visionary leader who has been subjected to malicious propaganda. The more enterprising ones even wear Hindutva as a badge of honor. Unfortunately for them, the likes of Modi and Bajrangi continue to reveal the seamy side of Hindutva. Ratan Tata might want to invest in Gujarat — You are stupid if you do not invest in Gujarat, he allegedly said (archive) — but can Muslims live free from fear in Gujarat?
Even as Modi continues to stoke the Hindutva fire in the run-up to the Gujarat Assembly elections, his Sanghi buddies seem to have put behind their differences and ensure his re-election. A VHP press release dated Nov 21, 2007, which surprisingly has not made it to the Net yet, reads:
The Standing Committee of Vishwa Hindu Parishad, in a meeting held at New Delhi, on November 21, 2007 declared the position of VHP with regards to the forthcoming assembly elections in Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh.
The meeting was presided over by Shri Ashok Singhal. Also present in the meeting were Shri Vishnu Hari Dalmia, Acharya Giriraj Kishore, Shri Vedantamji, Dr. Pravinbhai Togadia, Dr Maheshbhai Mehta (Global Coordinator) and 35 other members. All the members present in the meeting expressed unequivocal support to Hindu forces in the coming elections leading the pro-Hindu candidates to a landslide victory, giving crushing defeat to all anti-Hindu candidates.
The VHP further emphasized the need to keep Hindu votes undivided ensuring stable governments in Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh and give a befitting reply to the anti-Hindu and “So-called Secular” forces.
Mahesh Mehta, listed as Global Coordinator of the VHP, is a founder and past President of the VHP-America (archive). That the VHPA works in close coordination with the Sangh in India should come as no surprise, despite VHPA’s claims to the contrary (archive):
Though inspired by the same ideals as those followed by Vishwa Hindu Parishad of Bharat, VHP of America is distinct, legally separate and operationally independent Non-Profit organization in its own right within the USA.
Hmm, operationally independent perhaps means the contrary in Sangh-speak. All said, I think VHPA still has some wiggle room left. It’s not clear whether Mahesh Mehta is still a VHPA officebearer, so it could possibly — if need be — distance itself from the PR (and Modi). Of course, it’s not as if the media is keeping tabs on the VHPA, so this instance of cross-border Sanghi coordination will most likely go uncommented.
Back in early 2005, just as the world was reeling under the mind-numbing realization that close to a quarter million people perished as a result of the devastating Tsunami, the Sangh Parivar mobilized its mouthpieces and claimed under various guises to be conducting a massive effort to provide succor to thousands in southern India. One place where they gained notoriety immediately was Nagapattinam district’s Keechankuppam village, which lies right next to the harbor. Here, Sewa Bharati threatened NGOs that sought to respond to the community’s requests for assistance. The saffron goons believed the village to be their personal fiefdom, and only after facing the wrath of local villagers did they relent.
Two years after the tsunami the saffron sevaks and their various sangh parivar outfits each claimed to have built 248 units for the village’s inhabitants. As has become common for NGO constructed housing, the completion was marked by a ceremonial handing-over of keys to the houses (see article from The Hindu). Now the residents who live in these units are angry. The two storey houses painted in cheerful pink and accessible through a garish arch that memorializes the Sangh Parivar more than it represents the village and its peoples’ culture, are emblems of horrid construction practices.
Not that this is unique to the Sangh’s work: scores of NGO constructed houses have problems that can only be termed disastrous, pun very soberly intended. In a sense Sewa Bharati succeeded in behaving just like all the other NGOs – it hastily built the houses without giving a hoot about the fact that the site was more than a kilometer away from the coast. But it went further than most other NGOs by warning its beneficiaries that they shouldn’t allow Muslims and Christians into their new village. The residents report that such admonitions were listened to silently, and promptly ignored since they (and the coastal population in these parts) have a long tradition of inter-communal harmony.
As of late November, 2007, the residents of Keechankuppam’s original village and the 248 families living more than a kilometer away have not seen the Sangh Parivar sevaks: Sewa Bharati has practically disappeared from view. All that remains are two storeyed houses where toilets have been built with no septic tanks, walls cracked with rain water leaking in, drain pipes leaking water into houses below, ceilings with holes, dangerous slush filled banks of the backwaters which people are forced to use as toilets, diseases due to standing water and sewage, and most importantly, the feeling that the saffron charlatans skipped town. As for other “seva” activities neither residents of the original village nor those of the new colony could remember anything worthwhile done by the saffron sevaks. Local community organizations run schools and provide other necessary services to the people, but the Sangh’s “selfless warriors” are missing in action from Keechankuppam. And good riddance one might add.
Currently many of the residents of the second storeys have returned back to the sites of their original homes, with some having rebuilt small homes themselves. The economic costs of being away from the coast are too heavy for a community that derives its livelihood from fishing. People who took the permanent houses are adamant about retaining their original spaces despite the government’s demand that they give up rights to those spaces once they receive new houses. Now the horrid realities of living in dangerously constructed houses adds to the desire of these people to head back to the coast and defend their right to the coast with renewed vigor. Sewa Bharati’s chicanery has unwittingly aided this return, but before we laud them for it, lets not forget that even here the Saffron sevaks should share (dis)honors with the herd of NGOs who came blaring trumpets, built castles of sand and ran away.
We (the undersigned) read with growing dismay the statement signed by Noam Chomsky, Howard Zinn and others advising those opposing the CPI(M)’s pro-capitalist policies in West Bengal not to “split the Left” in the face of American imperialism. We believe that for some of the signatories, their distance from events in India has resulted in their falling prey to a CPI(M) public relations coup and that they may have signed the statement without fully realising the import of it and what it means here in India, not just in Bengal.
We cannot believe that many of the signatories whom we know personally, and whose work we respect, share the values of the CPI(M) – to “share similar values” with the party today is to stand for unbridled capitalist development, nuclear energy at the cost of both ecological concerns and mass displacement of people (the planned nuclear plant at Haripur, West Bengal), and the Stalinist arrogance that the party knows what “the people” need better than the people themselves. Moreover, the violence that has been perpetrated by CPI(M) cadres to browbeat the peasants into submission, including time-tested weapons like rape, demonstrate that this “Left” shares little with the Left ideals that we cherish.
Over the last decade, the policies of the Left Front government in West Bengal have become virtually indistinguishable from those of other parties committed to the neoliberal agenda. Indeed, “the important experiments undertaken in the State” – the land reforms referred to in the statement – are being rapidly reversed. According to figures provided by the West Bengal state secretary for land reforms, over the past five years there has been a massive increase of landless peasants in the state due to government acquisition of land cheaply for handing over to corporations and developing posh upper class neighbourhoods.
We urge our friends to take very seriously the fact that all over the country, democratic rights groups, activists and intellectuals of impeccable democratic credentials have come out in full support of the Nandigram struggle.
The statement reiterates the CPI(M)’s claim that “there will be no chemical hub” in Nandigram, but this assurance is itself deliberately misleading. This is the explanation repeatedly offered by CPI(M) for the first round of resistance in Nandigram – that people reacted to a baseless rumour that there would be land acquisitions in the area. In fact, as the Chief Minister himself conceded in the State Assembly, it was no rumour but a notification issued by the Haldia Development Authority on January 2, 2007 indicating the approximate size and location of the projected SEZ, which triggered the turmoil.
The major factor shaping popular reaction to the notification was Singur.
Singur was the chronicle of the fate foretold for Nandigram. There, land was acquired in most cases without the consent of peasant-owners and at gun-point (terrorizing people is one way of obtaining their consent), under the colonial Land Acquisition Act (1894). That land is now under the control of the industrial house of the Tatas, cordoned off and policed by the state police of West Bengal. The dispossessed villagers are lost to history. A fortunate few among them will become wage slaves of the Tatas on the land on which they were once owners.
While the CPM-led West Bengal government has announced that it will not go ahead with the chemical hub without the consent of the people of Nandigram, it has not announced any plans of withdrawing its commitment to the neo-liberal development model. It has not announced the shelving of plans to create Special Economic Zones. It has not withdrawn its invitation to Dow Chemicals (formerly known as Union Carbide, the corporation responsible for tens of thousands of deaths in Bhopal) to invest in West Bengal. In other words, there are many more Nandigrams waiting to happen.
In any case, the reason for the recently renewed violence in Nandigram has been widely established to have nothing to do with the rumour or otherwise of a chemical hub. Print and visual media, independent reports, the governor of West Bengal (Gopal Gandhi) and the State Home Secretary’s police intelligence all establish that this round of violence was initiated by the CPI(M) to re-establish its control in the area. We all have seen TV coverage of unarmed villagers barricaded behind walls of rubble, while policemen train their guns on them.
With the plans it has for the future, regaining control over Nandigram is vital for the CPI(M) to reassure its corporate partners that it is in complete control of the situation and that any kind of resistance will be comprehensively crushed. The euphemism for this in the free marketplace is ‘creating a good investment climate’.
The anti-Taslima Nasreen angle that has recently been linked to the Nandigram struggle against land acquisition is disturbing to all of us. However, we should remember that it is largely Muslim peasants who are being dispossessed by land acquisitions all over the state. There is a general crisis of confidence of the Muslim community vis-à-vis the Left Front government, inaugurated by the current Chief Minister’s aggressive campaign to “clean up” madarsas, followed by the revelation of the Sachar Committee that Muslim employment in government jobs in West Bengal is among the lowest in the country. While we condemn the attempts to utilize this discontent and channelize it in sectarian ways, we feel very strongly that it would be unfortunate if the entire anger of the community were to be mobilized by communal and sectarian tendencies within it. Such a situation would be inevitable if all Left forces were seen to be backing the CPI(M).
This is why at this critical juncture it is crucial to articulate a Left position that is simultaneously against forcible land acquisition in Nandigram and for the right of Tasleema Nasreen to live, write and speak freely in India.
History has shown us that internal dissent is invariably silenced by dominant forces claiming that a bigger enemy is at the gate. Iraq and Iran are not the only targets of that bigger enemy. The struggle against SEZ’s and corporate globalization is an intrinsic part of the struggle against US imperialism.
We urge our fellow travellers among the signatories to that statement, not to treat the “Left” as homogeneous, for there are many different tendencies which claim that mantle, as indeed you will recognize if you look at the names on your own statement.