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The U.S., Modi, and AAHOA

April 2005
The U.S., Modi, and AAHOA

The Asian American Hotel Owners Association (AAHOA)'s invitation to Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi and the consequent denial of his visa by the U.S. on grounds of Modi's complicity against the minority community during the 2002 communal riots (that resulted in over 2000 dead), has caused quite an uproar.

The very practice of the U.S. of denying visas to Statesmen on humanitarian grounds is a farce -- because the broader foreign affairs of the country are no longer based on core values, but rather purely on the expediencies of the day. America has presumptuously assumed the role of a global policeman citing various sundry States when doing so has served itself. At other times, it has jumped in bed with tyrants of the kind who have gassed thousands of their own people. Dictators who have come to power through blatant coups have often enjoyed the royal treatment at the White House.

In the light of such schizophrenic standards, the denial of a visa to Modi is sanctimonious and it lends validity to those who chose to decry it.

However, the reality that the U.S. has not been principled in such matters should not undermine the ideal -- that nations must conduct themselves with humanitarian consideration. From that standpoint, and taking Modi's case on its own merit, this denial should not come as a surprise. There are those who say that this action was an insult to India's Constitution. Accoding to them, the U.S. shoud have shown deference to India's democracy and rule of law, since Modi is a duely elected official who is yet in good (legal) standing. Fair enough.

But shouldn't that standard apply to Indians as well? After all, democracy and rule of law were precisely what were compromised in Gujarat where the State has been found responsible for organized designs against the minority community. This is the verdict not just of the victims, or of a few "bleeding heart" journalists, but rather of several Indian and international human rights organizations, including Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and the Indian National Human Rights Commission (NHRC). These independent agencies have not only held the Gujarat government complicit in genocide, but have also found it to be obstructing justice for the victims.

If such independent agencies can't be relied upon then we may as well do away with the whole system of checks and balances?and worship our own prejudices. Does this mean that Modi was directly responsible without a shadow of doubt? Maybe not. Indeed, it has been pointed out that he is yet to be charged in a court of law. Yet, close to fifty national and international watchdogs and commissions have held the State responsible. According to most of them, the events in the Gujarat riots meet the legal definition of genocide. Can this be possible without the implied, if not explicit sanction of the Chief Minister?

To know Modi with any degree of proximity is to know that his signature calling card is Hindu nationalism as opposed to democratic values. To this end, he has been described as "firebrand", and even as "The lion of Gujarat"! He is not only affiliated with, but is also a celebrated hero of the staunchly Hindu nationalist "Sangh Pariwar", which is renowned for its anti-minority ideology. Modi's extremism on this subject is beyond concealment.

It is telling that those shouting the loudest about America's snubbing of the Indian Constitution, are in the same breath, not giving any heed to India's own Supreme Court, which has reprimanded Modi while describing him as a "modern day Nero" -- a reference to the brutal Roman emperor.

Considering the gravity of charges against Modi, a self-respecting organization would have kept its distance from him. Yet, AAHOA(of which we have spoken reverently in this very forum) dropped its guard. The justification for the invitation was myopic: Modi was invited "only" for business reasons.

Considering that the majority of their members are from Gujarat, they wanted "purely to discuss business opportunities in Gujarat."

However, can business entities conduct themselves in such a vacuum? What about their moral, social and humanitarian responsibilities? Can these be blissfully ignored? After all, why does Publix supermarket offer a biodegradable paper bag, when sticking to only plastic ones would be cheaper? Why do businesses bother with a code-ofethics? Much more than paper bags and ethics is involved here.

"Pogrom" and "genocide" are no laughing matter. Respectable institutions cannot hide behind casual platitudes in the face of these. One can't cherry-pick the Chief Minister's persona for only that which is convenient to one.

Why were the allegations against Modi not given any credence? What if they are true? Does the association have no qualms about it? Considering that AAHOA itself was created to fight discrimination against Asian hoteliers, shouldn't it be more, not less concerned about a person whose crowning reputation is as one who is antiminority? Choosing such a man as a chief guest is inconsistent with the organization's otherwise stellar record.

- Parthiv N. Parekh

[To comment on this article, please write to letters@khabar.com]

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