As India heads to the polls in April/May 2019 a wide cross-section of Indians gathered on Saturday, April 6, 2019 at the Indian Consulate in New York City (NYC) to stand in solidarity with people fighting to defend the Constitution, democracy and human rights in India. The NYC “Defense of Democracy” rally brings together the rich diversity of the Indian diaspora in the United States – scientists and engineers, service workers and computer professionals, artists and doctors, Hindus, Sikhs, Dalits and Muslims, policymakers, activist, left and liberal intellectuals and community leaders.
Some 900 million people can cast their ballot is, predictably, a source of anxiety and excitement on all sides of the political spectrum, and on this side of the globe. Traveling in a car en route to his next meeting with voters in India, Sam Pitroda, Chicago-based telecommunications entrepreneur and former advisor to India’s Prime Minister, shares his concerns about the heated election environment. Chicago based telecommunications entrepreneur and former cabinet minister and advisor to Indian Prime Ministers, was at an event celebrating the 150th anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi.
Those belonging to the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party and their supporters in the U.S., are enamored of Prime Minister Modi. Those in other parties, including the largest, Congress Party, complain of the loss of secular values and rise of Hindu chauvinism. Others are sprinkled in between, joining either side or exercising their independence.
Hundreds of Indian residents in the U.S., and a sizable number of Indian Americans have left or are planning to leave in the next few days and weeks, to participate in campaigns of parties they support, and even vote if eligible.
From the Overseas Friends of BJP to the Indian Overseas Congress and regional parties with U.S. chapters, like Telangana Rashtriya Samithi, or the Samajwadi Party of Uttar Pradesh, or former U.P. Chief Minister Mayawati’s Bahujan Samaj Party, and Shiromani Akali Dal, Telugu Desam, members and supporters living abroad, are engaging the Indian electorate, whether by participating in phone banks from New Jersey to California, or by being physically present in India.
“In the last three days alone we have been holding more than 16 ‘Chai Pe Charchas’ and ‘Chowkidar’ marches around the United States,” Krishna Reddy Anugula, president of the Overseas Friends of BJP, told the media. He also pointed to the organization Sikhs of America, which held a car rally in support of Modi in Maryland on March 31. Members of Sikhs of America had not returned calls by press time.
Commenting on the lynchings and targeted attacks on Muslims and Dalits that have increased exponentially since the coming to power of Narendra Modi in 2014, Sarah Anderson-Rajarigam of Dalit Solidarity Forum, one of the co-sponsors of the rally said, “Dalit Solidarity Forum deplores the heavy targeting of Dalits and other marginalized communities. We unite our voices with Dalits and other minorities in their fight for freedom and support them in their efforts to uphold the constitution.” 97% of all the lynching incidents since 2010 by so-called ‘cow-protection’ mobs have taken place between 2014 and 2018 since the BJP came to power.
The organizers of the rally said, the BJP government has also been responsible for systematic erosion and weakening of democratic values and institutions. It has been attacking and weakening constitutional bodies such as the Election Commission, Supreme Court, Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) and Reserve Bank of India (RBI). BJP ministers as well as the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS) chief have given statements indicating that they would like to change the constitution to implement their fundamentalist agenda. The CBI and Income Tax department have also been used to intimidate media organizations critical of the BJP government.
Sunita Viswanath of Sadhana: Coalition of Progressive Hindus, said, “We are Americans of Hindu faith, many of us Indian, who stand opposed to the ideology of Hindutva and the atrocities against minorities and dissenters being committed in the name of Hinduism. We stand with all the people of India who are calling for an end to this regime that threatens democracy, disregards the dignity and safety of minorities, and has declared war on the poor.”
The BJP has significantly increased corruption and corporate plunder. To distract people from its record of failed governance, the BJP has increased war mongering and is busy dividing the people along communal lines. When Muslims, Dalits, and the Left have resisted or spoken up against the injustice, they have either been imprisoned using draconian laws such as Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act. Adivasi (indigenous) people and landless laborers, who have been fighting for land and forest rights, have been arrested and harassed. Workers, who have been struggling against the government’s increased privatization and casualization of work, have been fired or put in prison. With the emboldening of patriarchal forces, in many instances, the attacks on women’s rights and safety have been led by BJP ministers and leaders.
Mohammad Jawad, National General Secretary of Indian American Muslim Council (IAMC), speaking on why IAMC has joined the rally said, “The people of India will eventually recognize the divisiveness and hate the current BJP/RSS government is spreading and will unite to preserve our constitution and defeat this government.”
The Defense of Democracy rally called for:
- Ensure Free and Fair Elections! Election Commission must guarantee election freeof violence, intimidation, and rigging
- Stop the witch-hunt! Release all UAPA arrestees and drop allcharges
- Stop the lynching of Dalits and Muslims! Arrest and Prosecute theperpetrators
- Stop culture of fear! End the attacks and intimidation of activists, artists,workers, women