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Modi in Hyderabad

It is likely that Narendra Modi will be the next prime minister of India, in which position he will be a most important person so far as Pakistan is concerned – and the government in Islamabad may well be a little concerned about the future of India-Pakistan relations if the fire-breathing Modi does get the top job.

He is the prime ministerial candidate of the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) which is likely to overcome the Congress Party in the next general election, to be held in May, and is chief minister of Gujarat, the state in which over 1,000 Muslims were slaughtered by mobs in 2002.

The BBC records that Modi “has not expressed remorse or offered an apology for the 2002 violence. He has never expressed any remorse or offered any apologies for the riots, and many Muslims displaced by the violence continue to live in ghettos near Ahmedabad, Gujarat’s largest city and commercial capital.”

It has never been proved that chief minister Modi had a command role in that terrible affair, but there is no doubt he didn’t lift a finger to halt the slaughter which involved some of the most barbaric viciousness since the 1984 massacre of Sikhs, also by Hindu mobs. (On February 13, in an all too common revision of history, the BJP national president Rajnath Singh referred to the 1984 genocidal havoc as “Hindu-Sikh riots.”)

But although the authorities in India declined to pursue investigation of Modi’s association with the bloodbath it was concluded in the United States that the Gujarat atrocities were disgraceful, and in 2005 Modi was refused an entry visa in accordance with US policy “to oppose particularly severe violations of religious freedom that are or have been engaged in or tolerated by the governments of foreign countries.”

This was right and proper (although one wonders if any Israelis have ever been so inconvenienced), and Modi remains on the banned list for having violated religious freedom. But for how long?

General Motors has established an industrial plant in Modi’s Gujarat, and Ford will open a factory there later this year, as the US works to expand its market influence. There is massively expensive lobbying (not involving, of course, any bribery) in India by US commercial enterprises seeking an increase in the level of permitted foreign direct investment (FDI) from 26 to 49 percent, and on February 13 US General (r) Jeff Kohler of the Boeing company told the Press Trust of India “it has been very difficult to go to our senior corporate leadership and justify an investment in India at 26 percent FDI”, but that “if it truly goes to 49 percent, it would allow guys like me to go back to the corporate leadership and say now we have an opportunity to go and invest. We can show the rate of returns to our shareholders and board of directors.”

It appears there is a connection between a desire by US commercial enterprises to increase their shareholders’ rates of returns in India and the recent call on Modi in Gujarat by US ambassador Nancy Powell. Her embassy said her visit was part of “outreach to senior leaders of India’s major political parties in advance of the upcoming national elections” and would also entail meeting representatives of “US and Indian businesses” in Gujarat.

There was no mention of her visiting any Muslims driven from their homes and forced to live for the last twelve years in what the BBC describes as ghettoes, but perhaps her time in Gujarat was too limited to permit such a diversion.

On February 15 the New York Times called the Modi-Powell meeting “pragmatic” in an editorial calling for “more engagement with India,” and this has set the seal on US policy. If Modi were able to spare time from electioneering to visit Washington it is unlikely his visa application would be denied. It seems that disapproval of “particularly severe violations of religious freedom” by an Indian politician might be on Washington’s back-burner. But the politician is still burning with fervour.

Modi’s most informative speech of recent months was given in Hyderabad last August. It defined the way he wants to go. Of course, it was full of venomous references to political opponents, but he made equally poisonous comments about India’s neighbours, China and Pakistan, which bode ill for the future, should he become PM.

Just before he made the Hyderabad speech there had been an incident along the Line of Control in Kashmir in which it was alleged that five Indian soldiers had been beheaded in an ambush by the Pakistan Army. There is no doubt the soldiers died in an ambush by Kashmiri militants, but the absurd claim of beheading by Pakistani soldiers was hysterical propaganda aimed at deflecting attention from a deficiency in Indian army tactics.

This did not deter Modi from launching a tirade against Pakistan to the effect that “Our soldiers were beheaded and just after that our Indian foreign minister was serving biryani to Pakistani guests in Jaipur, and what does he say? – ‘this is protocol.’ I am asking youngsters of my country, should there be any protocol with those who behead the soldiers of our nation?”

It was rabble-rousing stuff. His anti-Pakistan refrain ran through the Hyderabad speech and his disparagement of China was equally vehement, with phrases like “China is entering our land and creating space for themselves…but Delhi government went into an unfortunate agreement that Indian army had to retreat from our very own land!”

It appears that Modi is not corrupt, and for that his country may be thankful. But the present prime minister, the honourable and well-meaning Manmohan Singh, isn’t corrupt, either. It appears that Modi wants prosperity for his country – as does Singh. But the great difference is that Singh favours talking and mediation concerning international disputes and problems while Modi favours confrontation. Pakistan should take note of Modi’s definitive speech in Hyderabad – and hope things won’t become Hyderaworse.

The writer is a South Asian affairs analyst. Website: www.beecluff.com

Brian Cloughle, "Modi in Hyderabad," The News. 2014-02-24.
Keywords: Political science , International relations , Political relations , Economic relations , Foreign investment , Government-Pakistan , Policy-United States , Military-Pakistan , Politicians , Muslims , Violence , PM Manmohan , Narendra Modi , Jeff Kohler , United States , India , Gujarat , China , Pakistan , BJP , FDI