After Prime Minister Modi’s much-celebrated visit to the United States, there was a growing debate as to the level of success compared to the previous visits by Modi himself or the former Indian prime Ministers. In an Economic Times report, various industrialists in India called it trend a setting or landmark visit. However, an article in Time magazine called the Biden-Modi meeting a failure for democracy. The truth is somewhere between these two assertions.
Undoubtedly, Biden’s embrace of Modi was a significant endorsement by Washington that has made several of his allies in the progressive wing of the Democratic Party express deep concern about the state of affairs in India. About 75 Washington lawmakers, Senators, and Congressmen wrote to Biden in an open letter demanding that Biden discuss growing human rights violations in India. American mainstream media in general, decried Modi’s past complicity in rights violations and his current governance that discriminates religious minorities across India.
It is to be noted that Modi was on a visit to the United States when one of the states in the union called, Manipur, was burning by ethnic clashes involving Hindu militants and Tribal Christians. Although the BJP propaganda machine has been eager to portray that as a dispute between two ethnic groups involving land rights, the burning of 243 churches in the Meitei heartland alone reveals the hidden agenda of the party in power. It is inconceivable that Mr. Modi hasn’t spoken about Manipur before or after his state visit to Washington.
Washington’s Deep State’ might have embraced Modi, but the mainstream media’s stories tell altogether a different story about the situation in India. In a press conference held in Washington along with President Biden, Modi pretended to be surprised by the question about how India treats its minorities. Not long after that, the Muslim WSJ reporter who asked that question was threatened and trolled mercilessly by those faithful followers of the Prime Minister.
There is little doubt in independent minds that Modi has been presiding over a period of rapid deterioration of human rights and religious freedom and the increasing criminalization of dissent. Civil Society, once vibrant in the country, is close to extinction as their voices are muted, and their financing channels are blocked. The media, by and large in India, has been taken over by the crony capitalists who have turned them into a Modi worship team. Investigative agencies have been weaponized to silence any organization, media outlet, or political party that would dare to challenge their deception and half-truths.
As the country is about to celebrate its 76th Independence Day from colonialism, one wonders whose independence we will celebrate! It indeed is not the independence of those two women who were marched naked and allegedly gang-raped in Manipur at the beginning of the unrest. The video showed two women stripped naked, held, and groped by a mob of men and dragged to a field. Would a country that prides itself on being the largest democracy and of a great civilization treat its women this way? Moreover, the arbitrary Internet shutdown, another violation of the right to information, covered up this embarrassing news to the public before his impending arrival in the U.S.
It is indeed not the independence of two Muslim men called Junaid and Nasir, from the Rajasthan-Haryana border,
who were allegedly attacked and abducted by a mob that later set them ablaze, alive while they were inside their car. A gang of self-professed right-wing zealots appears to have taken control of what Indians should eat in that part of the country! A Bajrang Dal leader Monu Manesar is named as the gang leader as accused in the burning of Junaid and Nasir and still at large and probably is the latest provocateur in the Nuh, Haryana riots.
It is indeed not the independence of those hundreds of Muslim families who were made homeless and destitute overnight by the actions of the state machinery that engaged in bulldozing homes of those who were allegedly accused of throwing stones at a march that appeared to have designed to enrage the locals due to the rumored presence of Monu Manesar. Nobody should condone the behavior of those who pelted stones; however, bulldozing their homes and shops that helped a community make a living is a crime against humanity. Don’t we have enough laws on the books to arrest and punish those culprits? Does the extra-judicial and collective punishment we might have copied from the Israeli occupation of Palestine appropriate for real democracy and the land of Mahatma?
After nine years of BJP rule, lynching, burning of people alive, and ethnic cleansing are all assumed to have a sense of normality. However, the institutions that were built to safeguard the values of democracy are all under great duress. It is quite evident that the current government disregards the aspirations of minorities while actively diminishing the power structures that provided political and social equilibrium in the last 65 years or more. The great leaders who have fought for our independence from the British, like Gandhi, Nehru, and Patel, together with B.R. Ambedkar who, have built institutions that guaranteed life and property protection of every citizen regardless of their race, religion, or region, also provided the opportunity to climb up the ladder of success and economic prosperity. What we are witnessing today is not the pursuance of that dream but somewhat revisionist steps on a regressive path that would not bode well for the Republic.
This week, we may witness widespread celebrations of India’s independence that will be held in many cities across the country in the U.S. However, you may not hear a word about whether the hard-fought freedom won by our founding fathers of modern India is in danger of being extinguished! The Indian community, by and large, remains silent on the ever-diminishing freedom or the weakening of its institutions. Five Congressmen of Indian origin are represented in the halls of Congress today, and we should be proud of that achievement. We must be grateful as well for the opportunities and privileges accorded in this great land of our adoption, where we can express our opinions freely and challenge the powers that be when we feel discriminated against. Yet not a single Congressman, who has taken an oath to uphold the American constitution and values, uttered a word when Manipur was burning, and the ethnic cleansing was in progress! They sat there in the joint session of Congress and clapped away, cheering the leader of the ‘mother of democracy’!
There is little doubt that the BJP’s role in the last nine years has ushered in an unprecedented attack on India’s democracy and people’s independence while injecting new elements of intolerance and authoritarianism. Martin Luther King Jr. once said that our lives begin to end when we become silent about things that matter. The question would be whether the Indian Diaspora could ill afford to continue its long-held silence on the current polarization that is ripping the country apart or its open defense of a regime that discriminates and punish the minorities in India! The thirty million-strong Diaspora may need to ponder our status as minority citizens across the globe and how we may be on the verge of undermining our own moral arguments in defense of freedom and justice.
(Writer is the Vice-Chairman of the Indian Overseas Congress, USA)