A State Terrorist
By Vijay Prashad
10 March, 2005
a business sector that likes to call itself the "hospitality industry,"
it is painful that the chief guest at its March 2005 gathering will
be a man who many claim to be a mass murderer. Hardly hospitable!
Narendra Modi, the
Chief Minister of the economically dynamic state of Gujarat, will travel
to Florida to deliver the keynote address for the Asian American Hotel
Owner's Association's 2005 Annual Convention and Trade Show. The Association
(or AAHOA) represents mainly small hoteliers and motel owners, rather
than the corporate conglomerates. Indian Americans, mainly Gujaratis,
came into this business by happenstance and now have a commanding role
in both AAHOA and as motel owners. Their success came from superb initiative,
from the use of family contacts (including capital) and of family labor,
and from the withdrawal of others from a business that is unrelenting
and relatively dangerous.
Within AAHOA there
is considerable diversity, between the members who own a single motel
or else those who own what amounts to a chain. AAHOA's president from
a few years ago, Bakulesh "Buggsi" Patel is the chief of Buggsi
Hospitality Group that owns at least thirteen hotels and is widely integrated
in the property markets in Washington, Idaho and Oregon states. Patel
told a business journalist, "Our members own 35 to 40 percent of
all lodgings in the United States, and when you get into the mid-market
to budget range, it's more like 55 to 60 percent of the market."
Even with this clout, Patel continued, Asians faced discrimination,
"In the beginning, we were stereotyped as bad operators. It was
hard to get insurance for properties, and we faced discrimination from
suppliers." People like Patel formed AAHOA to fight against these
forms of business discrimination, and to gain a higher profile for their
In 2000, at the
height of his game, Patel told the journalist J. N. Shenoy that AAHOA
had not "leveraged our strengths for political purposes."
Patel wanted to hire a full-time lobbyist in DC, who would get some
respect for AAHOA's over seven thousand members who own over $40 billion
worth of real estate and dominate the sector used by most of us when
we're on the road. In early February of 2005, AAHOA went on a legislative
field trip of Congress, meeting with members to ensure either funds
or exemptions from the Americans with Disabilities Act, to protect access
to the Small Business Administration's 7(a) start-up funds, and the
504 program for long-term financing of fixed assets (along with fixed-rate
second mortgages). In other words, like other business associations
in these neo-liberal times, AAHOA wanted as much free money from the
government and as little regulation as possible. For a group founded
to fight discrimination, it is a scandal that it will not honor the
Americans with Disabilities Act without question.
AAHOA realized Patel's
hope of having a politician bless the organization when newly minted
Congressman Bobby Jindal (Republican-LA) addressed the field-trip in
February 2005. But even this is not enough for a group that wants visibility.
What better way to gain the public eye than welcome the butcher of Gujarat
to be the chief guest at its next major event?
Narendra Modi is
the Chief Minister of Gujarat. He was re-elected to his post after the
2002 pogrom against Muslims conducted mainly by his political allies
and with the complicity of the state apparatus. Two thousand people
died and several hundred thousand had their homes and livelihoods devastated.
According to Human Rights Watch, "Mobs arrived by the thousands
in trucks, chanting slogans of incitement to kill, and armed with swords,
tridents, sophisticated explosives, and gas cylinders. They were guided
by computer printouts listing the addresses of Muslim families and their
properties. While army troops had been flown in to quell the violence,
state officials refused to deploy them until after the worst violence
had ended. In the weeks that followed the massacres, Hindu homes and
places of business were also destroyed in retaliatory violence by Muslims."
The pogrom followed
the death of several right-wing activists in a train car in the town
of Godhra. Without an investigation, the government, led by Modi, decided
that the activists had been killed by Muslims who lived in the vicinity
of the train tracks. It now turns out, according to an official commission
chaired by Justice U. C. Banerjee and released in early 2005, that the
coach may have caught fire by "accident." Instead of any inquiry,
the Modi administration used the pretext to send out its cadre for the
pogrom, and for political advantage. Human Rights Watch's report noted,
"Top police officials who had sought to protect Muslims were removed
from positions of command. Gujarat's Chief Minister Narendra Modi, formerly
a RSS volunteer and propagandist, came under severe scrutiny for his
role in the attacks."
The RSS is the core
organization of the right-wing Family (the Sangh Parivar). It is the
ideological center as well as the training ground for many of the thugs
who then go out to other Family groups set up to gain control over Indian
social life. Modi is a devout member of the RSS, a group whose founders
saw inspiration in the genocidal Nazi policies. The Indian Supreme Court,
in the careful language of jurists, found Modi to be party to the carnage
of 2002, "Those who are responsible for protecting life and properties
and ensuring that investigation is fair and proper seem to have shown
no real anxiety. Large number of people lost their lives. The modern
day `Neros' were looking elsewhere when Best Bakery [one site of the
carnage] and innocent children and helpless women were burning, and
were probably deliberating how the perpetrators of the crime can be
saved or protected" (Zahira Habibullah H. Sheikh vs. State of Gujarat
(2004) 4 Supreme Court Cases 158).
This is the official
who is to give AAHOA a higher profile! Activists in groups such as the
Coalition Against Genocide are trying to get the organization to rescind
its invitation. They have failed. AAHOA is unrepentant. Another speaker
at the convention is Chris Mathews of Hardball, but even he has so far
not succumbed to the pressure. The campaign needs help from one and
all. Call Chris Mathews' assistant, Tina Urbansky (202-737-7901) and
let her know what you think. Write to AAHOA's current president: Fred
Schwartz, AAHOA, 66 Lenox Pointe, NE, Atlanta, GA. 30324. If you live
in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida or thereabouts and want to be involved in
the protest against this state terrorist, check out the website www.coalitionagainstgenocide.org.
It is unlikely that
all the members of AAHOA are happy to host Modi. In the past two days
I spoke to two motel owners in the region where I live and both descried
the move, although neither wanted to get involved in any way. Progressive
political involvement for an immigrant who has something to lose is
always hard, and in these harsh times when many South Asian immigrants
are in the dragnet, it becomes virtually impossible. AAHOA, on the other
hand, is aggressively political, and rather than chose the typical bland
leader who would give it profile but not controversy, the group has
gone for Modi. This is a puzzle, although it could perhaps be explained
by the fact that he is the elected leader of Gujarat, from where many
hotel owners hail. In other words, the hotel owners should not earn
your ire, for their own social location is fraught. The core of the
problem is AAHOA's leadership, and Modi himself. They are the inverse
of hospitality, as Modi is the obverse of genocide.
teaches at Trinity College, Hartford, CT. His latest book is Keeping
Up with the Dow Joneses: Debt, Prison, Workfare (Boston: South End Press).
To sign an online
petition, protesting Modi's visit go to this link