|Ghost of Gujarat haunts Modi
London: The shrieks of innocent victims of Gujarat haunted Modi wherever he is going in the UK. On 17th he faced more than 400 protesters outside the Wembley Conference Hall where he was to deliver his first and key speech before his hosts, the Overseas Friends of BJP, from all over the UK.
Reporting the protest daily Guardian linked Modi to Hitler. The daily carried a full page report entitled "He is blamed for the death of 2,000 Muslims in India. So why is Narendra Modi in Wembley?" The report was accompanied with Modi's profile linking him to Adolf Hitler, Slobodan Milosevic and Pol Pot.
Protesters carried banner with slogans, "Modi shame on you", "Down with saffron fascism" and "Saffron fascists you are doomed, humanity will win." The protesters also carried large pictures of destroyed buildings and charred remains of those killed during last year's violence . They shouted anti-Modi and anti-BJP slogans. Despite being noisy the whole atmosphere was peaceful. However, as soon as Modi arrived agitated youngsters chased him when he was escorted in the hall. The protest was organised by several Muslim and non-Muslim organisations.
Today these groups organised another picket outside the office of Asian Voice/Gujarat Samachar, a pro BJP weekly, where Modi had been invited to inaugurate the renovated office of the establishment.
Given his controversial background, although it was not surprising to see a Labour party MP of Asian descent, Keith Vaz, from Leicester, going to attend this ceremony, the picketers were infuriated at his presence there.. Not only had Mr Vaz earned notoriety for his alleged role in helping the Hinduja brothers secure UK passports. and later for supporting the Government on Iraq issue, Mr Vaz is also a regular contributor to the unofficial mouthpiece of BJP. He has a large number of Muslims in his constituency who have always supported him. The protesters shouted, "hypocrite, hypocrite you are a fascist". The anger and noise became even louder when Modi himself arrived. "Murder, Murder, Shame, Shame," the protestors shouted.
Organisers say that after Foreign Office's assurance that no official would meet Modi, Vaz's participation in his reception was highly objectionable and unbecoming.
At another front Awaaz, an umbrella group of different organisations, failed in its effort to have Modi arrested in Britain. Judge Walkman of the Bow Street magistrate's court said he was rejecting the petition on the ground of lack of evidence against Modi. He, however, remarked that the petitioner could come back with a renewed application and he would be available.
Milli Gazette has learnt that Awaz is contacting Justice Suresh in India to get help in this regard. However, by the time any proof is submitted Modi would have left Britain.
London: The meeting of three Indian Muslims with Chief Minister of Gujarat, Narendra Modi, in London has sparked controversy among Indian Muslims in the UK.
Indian and international human rights bodies have held Modi responsible for last year's genocide of more than 2,000 Muslims in Gujarat. During these pogroms hundreds of women were mass raped and properties worth millions of pounds were plundered and destroyed. The leaked report conducted by the British High Commission in New Delhi said that these crimes had "all the hallmarks of genocide" and that as long as Modi was in power reconciliation between the two communities was not possible.
Modi had been invited by the Overseas Friends of BJP who had kept his programme top secret. As soon as his visit was confirmed leading Indian Muslim organisations in the UK started writing to the Prime Minister Tony Blair, Foreign Secretary Jack Straw and Home Secretary David Blunkett to take action against this visit. Muslim and non-Muslim organisations in the UK quoted from the Islamophobic speeches of Modi and stressed that he could be expected to do nothing but to preach hatred among peaceful communities in this country too. They reminded the FCO that while Luis Farakhan had been refused entry into Britain and a Kashmiri leader's multiple visa had been revoked on similar grounds there was no reason why a die-hard anti-Muslim figure like Modi be allowed to enter into Britain. Expressing its concern at the situation in Gujarat, the FCO said that Modi had not been invited by the British Government and that no British official would meet him during his visit.
Although Muslim organisations and community leaders were not happy with British Government's decision to issue entry clearance to Modi, they seemed to draw some satisfaction from its principled stand not to offer him any official protocol. The community, however, has been angered by the intransigent and irresponsible behaviour of the Chairman of Lancashire Council of Mosque Ibrahim Master, businessman Zafar Sareshwala and Maulana Isa Mansuri of World Islamic Forum, who broke ranks and met Modi violating a general consensus not to see him.
"We regard Mr Modi's visit as an opportunity to build on good relations and endeavour to bring prosperity and harmony so that we can all be proud of Gujarat; the power House of India". Mr Master told the Indian media. He is also reported to have written a letter to Modi. "We extend our welcome and look forward to a dialogue for mutual understanding and co-operation" Mr Master wrote to Modi. "Though requests have come to us to participate in joining a protest meeting in London from several organisations, we have refused as we feel that would insult the visiting dignitary." He went on. (The Economic Times, 20 August 2003) Mr Master had created similar differences in the community when, last year, during the visit of India's hardliner Hindu Deputy Prime Minister L. K. Advani he went to see him despite the opposition by the community.
Mr Sareshwala has been one of the most vociferous individuals campaigning for the prosecution of Modi. His sudden change of heart and reconciliatory mood has baffled the community. Even before he went to see Modi he declared, "We gladly extend a warm welcome to Mr Narendra Modi, the democratically elected representative of the people of
Milli Gazette has learnt that Mr Zafar Sareshwala's changed attitude is the result of the pressure put on his family in India. Some of his critics link it to his business interests back home. "If his family was under pressure and he did not have the courage to bear such a pressure he should have remained silent from the very beginning. If his business interests are so dear to him he could go and see Modi as an individual businessman. Why use the name of Muslims. Why use the name of Muslim community?" said Mr Yaqub Patel while protesting outside the office of AsiaVoice/Gujarat Samachar, a pro BJP bilingual tabloid where Modi had been invited.
Maulana Isa Mansuri is the right hand supporter of Mr Sareshwala. When I contacted him and expressed my concerns, the Maulana shouted back and said, "Community kon hoti hai hamen mashwarah dane wali" (who the hell is the community to advise us). The Maulana insisted that he had gone to see Modi so that he could protect Muslims in Gujarat. Maulana and Sareshwala, the two close friends, are justifying their meeting with the same logic. The Maulana has the reputation of being good at heart but naïve in his views and can be easily influenced by anyone he happens to like. Before their meeting with Modi he had been completely brainwashed by Sareshwala. Mr Sareshwala had even presented before him the humane face of Modi, who, according to him, had rescued Muslim children in a madarsa beseiged by Hindu rioters.
Are Muslims in Gujarat happy with this meeting? The letter sent by Zuber Jafri the son of late Ehsan Jafri, a former MP who was brutally killed and burnt along with others who had taken refuge at his house, summarises the mood. "… Just because your daughters, sisters and wife were not raped during the Genocide in Gujarat you went and met the butcher of Gujarat Narendra Modi who everyone knows was directly responsible for the mass killings and rapes of Muslim girls. Your children did not see anyone in your family being burnt alive so you went ahead and met Modi… Your act of trying to give legitimacy to his black deeds might work for your business in Gujarat but for the victims of Gujarat this was a treacherous act - a betrayal. But thanks to God that the Muslims of Gujarat and UK have seen your true face and now they know what you stand for..." Jafri wrote to Sareshwala.
Did Mr Sareshwala's "warm welcome" to Modi change the attitude of Modi, the committed RSS man believing in the superiority of what he and his mentors call the "Hindu race"? The answer is "No". Modi's formula is simple: Muslim=fundamentalist=terrorists. He told the gathering of his supporters, at the Wembley Conference Centre, that Gujarat was facing terrorism (simply meaning Muslims) which he promised to crush whatever the cost. Hence the indiscriminate arrest of even most highly respectable Muslims, intimidation of the key witnesses of the genocide and consequently the release of the killers of Muslims.
During his first visit to UK Advani had, at least, confessed that Gujarat was indefensible. However, as far as Modi is concerned, he has no remorse . In his view what he did to the Muslims in Gujarat was as necessary as US's treatment of the Taliban. "… no one has asked this question to the USA after 9/11. Delhi is developing fast… no one has asked this question to Delhi after 1984. If it does not matter to Delhi and USA, why should it matter to Gujarat?" (Times of India, 19 August)
In his emails Mr Sareshwala has been explaining that his intention was to bridge the communication gap between Gujarati Muslims and the Government of Gujarat. One has to agree with his view that unlike Muslims in other parts of India, Gujarati Muslims do not have any communication with their government because of which they are suffering. However, this role can and must only be played in India and not in London. One wonders what had stopped Mr Sureshwala to do this service before. Why did he have to wait for Modi to come to Britain? Why did his younger brother, Talha Sareshwala, have to travel from India to accompany him to the meeting? The only help Muslim NRIs can give to their brothers and sisters in India is to work as pressure groups and raise awareness about the injustices being meted out to them. It would be Muslim NRI's fallacy and arrogance if they thought that Indian Muslims were dying for their guidance. By choosing to see Modi, these self-styled leaders have only undermined the efforts of those who had been working to embarrass him day and night and had traveled to London from different parts of Britain. Ironically before seeing Modi Maulana Mansuri had even participated in the picket.
As far as Mr Master is concerned he hardly has any knowledge about Indian politics, Indian history and the philosophy of the RSS and he, therefore, is the most unequipped person to do any representation for the Indian Muslims.
(23 Aug 2003)
(Photographs M. Ghazali Khan)