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Smearing Narendra Modi: An Unrelenting Campaign

Vested interests in Indian politics are threatened by the rise of Modi.

Reza Aslan and Michael Brooks make a litany of charges against Narendra Modi, the prime ministerial candidate of the Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) in their article, “Is India About To Elect a Far Right Nationalist?” The BJP is India’s main opposition party challenging the Congress party that has been in power for most of the over six decades of India’s independence. It has therefore launched a vitriolic campaign to discredit Modi. Aslan and Brooks are participating in that campaign willingly because they are familiar with the anglicized leadership of the Congress or unwittingly because they have fallen for the Congress narrative hook, line and sinker.

Facts Do Matter

Aslan and Brooks clearly do not know much about India. They begin with a fallacious assertion that Modi is the governor of Gujarat. In the Indian parliamentary system, it is the chief minister of a state who wields power. The governor is a ceremonial position. Modi is chief minister and not governor. For those who do not even know this about India, it is brazen to pass judgment on viability of a candidate to lead the country.

Aslan and Brooks have the arrogance to ignore the judgment of the Indian judiciary and pronounce Modi guilty despite evidence to the contrary. The 2002 Gujarat riots have already seen an inquiry into both by a commission set up by the Gujarat government and the Special Investigation Team (SIT) monitored by the Supreme Court. Both have absolved Modi of blame for the riots. Yet, an incessant media campaign has been orchestrated against him and he has been deemed guilty by India’s English speaking media, activists and, naturally, Congress leaders like Jairam Ramesh. Aslan and Brooks have quoted Ramesh without pausing to think that he has every incentive to defame Modi, especially given that elections are around the corner and the Congress is in dire straits.

Congress leaders have long feared Modi and have launched vicious attacks on him. In a 2007 speech, Sonia Gandhi called him Maut ka Saudagar –  a merchant of death. Prime Minister Manmohan, who rarely speaks to the media or in public, has castigated Modi for “presiding over the massacre of citizens in the streets of Ahmedabad.” The Congress is conspicuously silent about its role in the 1984 pogrom of the Sikhs. Gandhi’s husband was in charge then and her close loyalists led mobs through the streets of Delhi to humiliate, torture and murder innocent Sikhs. Even old men and young adolescents were burnt alive in a frenzy of violence whipped up by Congress leaders. India’s English speaking media has colluded in the cover up of the pogrom and not given 1984 a fraction of the scrutiny that it has given 2002.

Revisiting 2002

On February 27, 2002, 59 Hindu pilgrims including women and children were burnt to death in their train compartment in Godhra, a small town in Gujarat. The Nanavati-Shah Commission set up to investigate the incident, arrived at the conclusion that the ill-fated Sabarmati Express had been surrounded by a mob of fundamentalist Muslims just outside Godhra railway station. The mob targeted a particular coach after disconnecting it from the train and ruthlessly burnt alive its occupants, locking the doors from outside. The mob prevented the fire brigade from reaching the site until the hapless victims were charred to death. The Gujarat police had also reached the same conclusion in its preliminary investigation. The SIT later concurred with the findings of the Nanavati-Shah commission.

The riots which followed the burning of the train at Godhra were spontaneous instead of planned. They resulted in the death of 790 Muslims and 254 Hindus instead of the thousands claimed by the media. What happened was a tragedy, but it certainly was not the genocide that it is painted to be.

The “accidental fire” theory claimed by Aslan and Brooks was initially propounded by the U.C. Banerjee commission set up by the national Congress government in 2004. This was picked up by journalists that had benefited from Congress patronage and the theory was widely disseminated as established fact. The Gujarat High Court quashed the constitution and conclusion of the Banerjee Commission. It ruled that the commission’s investigation was "unconstitutional, illegal and null and void." The court declared that the formation of the commission as a "colourable exercise of power with mala fide intentions," and its argument of accidental fire "opposed to the prima facie accepted facts on record."

Of those accused of burning the train, 31 received severe sentences. Of these, 11 were given the death penalty. After investigation, trial and sentencing, the matter should have been laid to rest. However, the media that praises India’s judiciary has continued to deem Modi guilty for the 2002 riots. Analysts like Aslan and Brooks damn Modi as well without an examination of facts.

Since independence in 1947, 13,000 communal riots have occurred in India. Independence itself was accompanied by the partition of the country into India and Pakistan. This led to the biggest human migration in history. Some estimate that up to a million people might have died then. In the more recent Mumbai riots of 1992-93, over 900 people lost their lives. Most riots- Bhagalpur, Meerut, Mumbai and Nellie – have occurred under the rule of the Congress. Gujarat itself has witnessed regular communal riots since 1967 and it was largely under Congress rule until Modi came to power in 2001. After the tragic riots of 2002, Gujarat has remained riot-free under Modi.

Last Throw of the Dice

The Congress has lost all credibility because of its record of extortionate corruption and spectacular incompetence. In the recent state elections, it was humiliated and won a handful of seats. Modi has a reputation for honesty and competence. His performance as the chief minister of Gujarat has put him in pole position to replace the dynastic and discredited Congress. It is not only Gujarat’s voters but also international leaders who admire his governance. Japan, Canada, Britain, the EU and even Iran have established close trade ties with Gujarat. Only the US has remained doctrinaire in its condemnation of Modi as it cannot lose face by admitting that it was wrong.

The rise of Modi is making the Congress nervous. It has therefore launched a smear campaign of monumental proportions to paint him as an Indian neo-Nazi who believes in ethnic cleansing. If the Congress is to be believed, Modi might well be planning concentration camps. The fact is that Modi has been trying to win over Muslim leaders. Mohammad Hashim Ansari, the oldest litigant in the Ram Janambhoomi-Babri Mosque dispute has remarked that “Congress is creating fear of Modi.” This dispute has been extremely ferocious because Hindus believe that Lord Ram was born here while Muslims believe that a mosque built by Babar stands at the same spot. That a Muslim leader involved in this dispute has remarked on the vilification campaign of the Congress is a testimony to its pettiness.

The Congress goal is simple. It wants to retain power at any cost. If it can mobilize the Muslim vote that comprises 15% of the electorate then it might have a fleeting chance. Therefore, the Congress is painting grim scenarios. Its hatchet men like Jairam Ramesh who speak English in the right accent have been given a license to defame Modi. The Ivy League educated American elite is notoriously ideological and has been trained by a generation of left-wing scholars who are close to the Congress. Aslan and Brooks demonstrate an elitist disgust of a provincial self-made politician with humble roots who speaks in rough and unfamiliar cadences. They are echoing what they hear from the Congress and helping it in its last throw of dice.

Leave India Alone, Uncle Sam

Aslan and Brooks make some staggering assumptions. First, they assume that the US can influence who India elects. The US stands discredited in India for its support of apartheid for decades. The recent spat over the mistreatment of an Indian diplomat has further lowered US prestige. If the US opposes Modi then he will win a landslide.

Second, Aslan and Brooks do not know much about economics. India’s economic growth does not depend on the US. The Indian economy kept growing despite US sanctions launched in the aftermath of its nuclear tests. India has launched a Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle recently despite all US efforts to stymie its efforts. The US does not have much of a lever with a country of over a billion people that is not an export oriented economy.

Third, Aslan and Brooks seem to forget that with the unraveling of Afghanistan and the Chinese challenge to the US in Asia Pacific, their country needs India. Modi is the preferred ally for many people in the CIA and the Pentagon. Breaking off relations with an India led by Modi will only harm US strategic goals and cost it arms sales.

There are two other assumptions that are supremely smug, sanctimonious and neo-imperial. Aslan and Brooks assume that the US is the arbiter of good behavior. When the US invaded Iraq to supposedly establish democracy, Indians laughed because Uncle Sam was hugging a military dictator named General Pervez Musharraf. Musharraf had attacked India, instigating the Kargil War, and sent terrorists across the border. Uncle Sam has long supported dictators who have committed genocide, from Pol Pot to Saddam Hussein.

Finally, Aslan and Brooks turn on Modi for the 2002 riots but fail to acknowledge that the illegal US invasion Iraq has caused many more deaths. They ignore the fact that the US still operates Guantanamo and kills innocent women and children through drone strikes. It spies on foreign leaders and its own people. The US refuses to reveal that civilians are dying on a daily basis because of drones. Aslan and Brooks forget that their country is in no position to pass judgment on Modi or on India. They also forget that compared to many Bible bashing Republicans virulently opposed to abortion and evolution, Modi is mild by comparison. He focuses on education, allows abortion and strongly favors evolution. Aslan and Brooks need to get over their smug sense of American superiority and look at the world through less jaundiced eyes. Modi deserves examination, not vilification, and India does not need American sermons, threats or condescension.

The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.

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