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Last Refuge Of The Scoundrel

By Praful Bidwai

30 March, 2005
Khaleej Times

Public 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' Association.

Washington's judgment 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!

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 or India.

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. 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 should Modi.

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.

"Sovereignty" 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.











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