A terrible man who is largely responsible for a pogrom that killed 1000 Muslims is the most-likely next prime minister of India, but the United States is stupidly dropping its opposition and already starting to “engage” with him. How will India’s 138 million Muslims – and other Muslims around the world – react as America lets Narendra Modi in from the cold?
The election begins in India on April 7, and Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party is well ahead in the polls. In the campaign, Modi is downplaying his aggressive Hindu nationalism, and appealing to voters who are understandably disgusted by the ruling Congress Party, which they blame for corruption and economic slowdown.
Modi is the long-standing chief minister – the equivalent of a governor – of the northwestern state of Gujarat. It was there, in 2002, that he presided over what the Indian writer and activist Arundhati Roy has called “a carefully planned genocide of Muslims in the state.”
Here’s what happened: under murky circumstances, Muslims allegedly attacked a train, killing 59 Hindu pilgrims. As “revenge,” Hindu mobs murdered at least 1000 people; women were gang-raped and burned alive; some 150,000 Muslims were forced from their homes. Whether Modi actually ordered the reprisals, or simply directed his police force to stand by as the killings continued, is unimportant; either way, as the state’s chief executive, he is guilty.
One of my Indian friends in Mumbai, a young middle-class man who is otherwise sympathetic to Modi’s “free market” economic doctrine, pointed out: “Modi might plausibly argue that he lost control of the state for the first day or two. But the mass killings of Muslims went on for a week.”
In 2005, the United States took the principled step of refusing Modi a visitor’s visa. But this February, as his support grew, America reversed course and asked to meet with him. The New York Times, in a foolish editorial, endorsed this as a “pragmatic step.”
By contrast, The Economist, which would normally gush over Modi’s economic approach, has just blistered him in its main opinion piece. The magazine said: “But for now he should be judged on his record – which is that of a man who is still associated with sectarian hatred.”