Of The Scoundrel
By Praful Bidwai
30 March, 2005
memory is notoriously short. But politicians' memory can be shorter.
In the mid-1960s, India's Congress party joined hands with the Left
to make a simple yet persuasive demand: withdraw Brigadier-General Paul
Tibbetts from the United States embassy in New Delhi. Tibbetts was the
pilot who had dropped the nuclear bomb on Hiroshima in 1945. He never
expressed remorse for this act of mass destruction. He was soon removed
as military attaché.
Nobody then thought
that issues of diplomatic protocol, "courtesy" and "sovereign"
rights of states come prior to the moral-political imperative of preventing,
protesting and punishing grave crimes against humanity, such as the
nuclear bombing of Japan.
By contrast, the
US denial of a visa to Narendra Modi has caused a great outpouring of
crude nationalistic anger in India. Washington has been accused of 'discourtesy'
and 'interference' in India's affairs. Some secularists who rightly
hold Modi responsible for India's worst state-sponsored pogrom of a
religious minority sided with the Bharatiya Janata Party on this.
Prime Minister Manmohan
Singh himself intervened in the debate and accused Washington of being
discourteous and making "a subjective judgment" to question
"a constitutional authority." India officially asked Washington
to reconsider its decision. Even sections of the Left have been
ambivalent on the issue.
In reality, there
is no room for ambivalence. The visa denial should be welcomed by all
secularists. The cause involved justice for the victims of a crime against
humanity transcending protocol, diplomatic courtesies, and even national
boundaries. Anything that denies respectability to communal criminals
should be welcomed. This rationale remains valid even if one takes a
critical view of the US's hegemonic and largely negative global role.
Contrary to claims,
Washington's denial of visa to Modi does not constitute interference
in India's affairs. All states reserve the right to grant/deny visas.
India routinely rejects thousands of visa applications. So does the
US. In the past, the US barred members of Communist parties or related
organisations. New Delhi never took up the cudgels on their behalf.
Doing so in the Modi case presumes that a fundamental right or principle
is violated. Yet, a visa is not a right. Modi wasn't invited to talk
to a learned society, but to address the Asian American Hotel Owners'
was no more 'subjective' than that of India's own Supreme Court and
National Human Rights Commission, on which the State Department based
its own view. As its spokesperson put it, "it was the Indians who
investigated the riots and determined that state institutions failed
to prevent violence and religious persecution." It's equally futile
to harp on Modi's status as a 'constitutionally elected' Chief Minister
while protesting US 'discourtesy'. When he instigated the violence that
led to the killing of 2,000 citizens and rape of thousands, Modi was
grotesquely violating the Constitution, not upholding it. As for courtesy,
well, it's to argue that those guilty of heinous crimes should be given
It's absurd to claim
that the US is prejudiced against the BJP or thinks India is a 'pushover'.
In 2002, the US reacted to Gujarat without a sense of outrage. Unlike
the European Union, it didn't issue a protest demarche to India. Modi
also gloated over similarities between President Bush and himself! Washington
has since clarified that its visa decision is no reflection on the BJP
Of course, this
doesn't argue that the US doesn't adopt double standards. It does, when
it coddles regimes which routinely commit 'severe violations of religious
freedom' - the clause under which it refused a visa to Modi.
Its present decision
is explained less by its own realpolitik calculations than by focused
lobbying by secular Indian-American groups, 38 of whom recently got
together to form the Coalition against Genocide, which focused on Modi's
visit (www. coalitionagainstgenocide.org). Earlier, some of these NRI
group had produced an excellent document, "Foreign Exchange of
Hatred", detailing how RSS fronts diverted funds for charity to
organisations involved in the Gujarat violence.
CAG ably lobbied
Congressmen and State Department officials, some of whom had visited
Gujarat. It relied on two reports of the US Commission on International
Religious Freedom, which recommended that India be designated a "Country
of Particular Concern". The commission in turn based itself on
reports of the NHRC, the Concerned Citizens' Tribunal headed by V R
Krishna Iyer, Amnesty International, People's Union for Civil Liberties,
etc. It also heard Indian experts.
Its assessment of
Modi's role in the pogrom replicates the conclusion drawn by at least
20 independent inquiries by Indian jurists and scholars.
Modi committed a
crime against humanity. Indeed, the Gujarat carnage was genocidal. It
fits the definition of the UN Convention against Genocide: "any
of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or
in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, such as: (a)
killing [its] members; (b) causing serious bodily or mental harm to
[them]; (c) deliberately inflicting on [them] conditions of life calculated
to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part"
Preventing and punishing
genocide is everybody's concern. Under the Convention, it is a duty.
The rebuff delivered
to Modi is well deserved, and indeed long overdue. One can only hope
he meets with similar treatment from the rest of the world. People like
Modi are a liability in all countries just like Slobodan Milosevic and
Pinochet, who today stand indicted or face trial on grave charges. So
The visa episode
highlights two things: one, the crying need to bring the guilty of Gujarat
to book through systematic, earnest prosecution; and second, the danger
of adopting chauvinist and jingoist stands in the name of 'national
sovereignty'. In reality, it's not states, but people who are sovereign.
cannot be a justification for butchering people. As has been said before,
patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel. That refuge becomes
all the more repulsive when used to shield perpetrators of crimes against
humanity, which are an issue of universal concern.