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The U.S. continues to appease Narendra Modi

on 19 Comments


Let us introduce just one of the more than 1000 victims of the anti-Muslim pogrom that Narendra Modi, India’s new prime minister, presided over in 2002. Ehsan Jafri was a 73-year-old member of Parliament who lived in a prosperous Muslim neighborhood in Ahmedabad, the capital of the state of Gujarat. On February 28, an angry Hindu mob started to gather. Jafri desperately called the police commissioner and the office of Modi, the state’s chief minister. No one answered.

Here’s what happened next: “Five or six people held [Jafri], then someone struck him with a sword. . .chopped off his hand, then his legs. . .then everything else. . . after cutting him to pieces, they put him on the wood they’d piled up and set it on fire. . . burnt him alive.”

Let us translate this event into American. Let us say a governor of Texas allowed the state and local police to stand by in 2002 as angry mobs tortured and murdered 1000 Mexican-Americans, including a member of the House of Representatives from San Antonio.  Would such a governor be excused just a decade later because he was now regarded as a “pragmatic, pro-business leader?”

Narendra Modi has never shown any remorse for his actions in 2002. As the Economic and Political Weekly, the distinguished Mumbai publication, noted, “not once in his campaign did Modi reach out to the minorities to assuage any misgivings they may have had about him as prime minister.”

The Obama administration policy toward Modi continues to be a combination of immoral and stupid. The votes were hardly counted before Obama invited Modi to the White House. Diplomacy may require perfunctory congratulations, but certainly Washington should have waited to see what Modi says and does before rewarding him with a state visit.

The New York Times editorial page also whitewashed the new leader. The paper did note that “many Indian Muslims blame him for failing to stop bloody riots in his home state in 2002. . .” This statement is both foolish and wrong. Of course not only “Muslims” are critical; India’s leading intellectual, the Nobel Laureate Amartya Sen, is among many who said Modi should not be prime minister.  Nor were the killings aimless “riots,” but instead an organized campaign of slaughter, with police connivance.

The business community, in both India and internationally, is ecstatic at Modi and his BJP party’s big win; after all, it contributed as much as $1 billion to his campaign. (No one knows for sure, because despite promising open government Modi is keeping the huge donations a secret.) India’s 138 million Muslims, some 13 percent of the population, are certainly living with a sense of foreboding. Not a single Muslim is part of the BJP’s 272-member parliamentary delegation.

James North

James North is a Mondoweiss Editor-at-Large, and has reported from Africa, Latin America, and Asia for four decades. He lives in New York City.

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19 Responses

  1. Hostage on May 20, 2014, 10:03 pm

    Thanks for writing about these situations in Africa and Asia, that deserve our attention and action too.

  2. Qualtrough on May 20, 2014, 10:25 pm

    Your bias is showing. Why single out India when there are countries with far worse human rights records, like Israel?

  3. Krauss on May 20, 2014, 11:41 pm

    James North says that the US continues to appease Modi, which is true, and James North continues to live in an alternative universe.

    Modi just won a huge landslide, like that of LBJ in ’64 or Reagan in ’84.
    In his previous article he called for boycotting Modi.

    This type of argument is symptomatic of an older kind of white liberal who was formed in a world where the West could impose on others a different kind of order from the outside as it saw fit. That world is long gone, and it was the world in which North grew up in, but he hasn’t kept up with the times. He still thinks it exists, because he argues along those lines. This article is a bit more level-headed than his last one, which was borderline delusional in his appraisails of American influence and power over non-Western countries. Maybe it has, even for him, finally begun to sink in just how ignorant that notion was as reality is crashing his world view as the post-election results are clear.

    As bad as the business community and the American media is, where is North on holding the Indian electorate accountable? The NDA won a clear majority, around 60% of the Lok Sabha seats. And if you’d look at only the non-muslim vote, they probably won upwards of 70+%. That means that the Hindus of India overwhelmingly voted for a man who was absolutely responsible for gruesome sectarian attacks(by allowing them to transpire) and has essentially issued zero regrets.

    Yet he barely talks about these people, why? North prefers to talk about the Western responses, but the fault primarily lies with the people who elected him.
    This again is an amusing portrait into the older, white liberal generation which is stuck in time. It’s a form of eurocentrism. Non-whites don’t matter, only as victims. But what happens when PoC become the oppressors of other PoC? North’s generation of white liberals are unable to deal with this, so they instead try to turn the conversation to the American media.

    Maybe it’s just me, but I don’t think most Indian muslims are shaking in fear of NYT editorials. I think they are much more concerned over how the Hindus in their country overwhelmingly voted for a man who could be accurately described as presiding over a pogrom. Yet North prefers to write about the NYT editorials, the business community and the Obama administration’s statements.

    In effect ignoring the people on the ground in India and instead focusing on mainly Western elites.

    A lot of PoC talk about the latent ethnocentrism among white liberals and this is a good example of that.
    For the same reason why “white feminism” has become a term with a lot of baggage from women of color.

    North doesn’t see it. He is myopic. He is shaped in that world view. He considers himself a universalist, yet his writings reveals he is less interested in non-Westerners other than as a jump-off to get to Western reactions. He should focus a lot more on what happened inside India itself to faciliate Modi’s rise, but that would unfortunately necessitate actually reading more about the country, of course.

    • LeaNder on May 21, 2014, 9:03 am

      This type of argument is symptomatic of an older kind of white liberal who was formed in a world where the West could impose on others a different kind of order from the outside as it saw fit.

      That is not what he suggests, far from it. Your bias about us–“the older kind”–is driving you over the cliff, at least concerning James North. I am wondering at the origin of the high level of emotions apparently present. What is their ultimate source?

      Maybe one of these days you could tell us what your core problem with “us” is.

    • Hostage on May 21, 2014, 9:04 am

      Krauss you are one sick puppy. The rest of the world has consistently condemned India’s human rights record for years in the UN treaty bodies. There is nothing old fashioned or doctrinaire about demanding that our elected representatives abide by IHL and IHRL and that they condition our foreign relations with others on the same principles. You don’t deal with failures and violations of fundamental rights by becoming cynical and dropping the subject. You speak out and call attention to the fact that everyone concerned has failed to meet their responsibilities.

      • LeaNder on May 21, 2014, 9:17 am

        I find the stereotype he uses pretty telling too. I wonder if he can give us some solid evidence backing up his portrayal of James as some type of liberal regime changer and lover of empire.

        But I have to admit too, at one point I stopped reading. Exactly when I got more interested in the source of the apparently strong underlying emotions, which I assume make his response pretty arbitrary anyway.

      • Frankie P on May 21, 2014, 9:43 am

        The Indian people are looking for economic recovery; it’s simple. They voted for the candidate they believed would take the correct actions to bring back the kind of economic growth they expect. The US is tickled pink that Mori is in power; he, like Abe in Japan, will be an important partner in the US’s planned Asian containment of surging China. Therefore, Krauss is right and he’s wrong. Krauss’ framing makes it appear that the Indian people voted for Mori because he presided over a pogrom. They did not, and he, by the way, he did NOT preside over a pogrom. At the same time, Krauss joins North in ignoring geo-political trends, shifts in power, and alliances. This is a common illness among people in the west, especially Americans.

        Frankie P

      • Hostage on May 21, 2014, 9:57 am

        This is a common illness among people in the west, especially Americans.

        Expecting our government representatives and the media to condemn atrocities committed against Muslims, Dalits, etc. and demanding reforms and accountability from the respective governments when they visit our elected leaders in this country has nothing at all to do with any “illness” or being an “older kind of white liberal”.

    • MRW on May 21, 2014, 10:02 am

      Oh, goody. A MW fight. ;-)

      I know what Krauss is talking about. It’s the real stakeholders, who are so often voiceless. Who is going to carry their flag?

  4. Citizen on May 21, 2014, 4:36 am

    All my doctors and dentists have been of Indian background for many years now; here, in America, they never chat about politics.

    • Stephen Shenfield on May 21, 2014, 8:00 am

      They very sensibly avoid talking politics with their patients, but are you sure they don’t do so among themselves?

      • Citizen on May 21, 2014, 9:28 am

        @ Stephen Shenfield
        Of course not. Why should they talk with an American patient about Hindu supremism?

  5. DICKERSON3870 on May 21, 2014, 4:36 am

    RE: The New York Times editorial page also whitewashed the new leader. The paper did note that “many Indian Muslims blame him for failing to stop bloody riots in his home state in 2002. . .” ~ North

    MY COMMENT: On the PBS News Hour they talked about all the excitement in India over Modi’s win thereby making him almost appear saintly, and giving the uninformed viewer not the slightest indication that he might have anything less than unblemished reputation. Of course, they might have been reluctant to say anything negative about him because they are aware of the potential for Modi’s shortly being seen as Israel’s new best friend.
    As to the U.S. Govt., their giving Modi a warm reception after years of keeping their distance from him (having once even denied him a visa to visit the U.S.) is the kind of hypocrisy that results from the pragmatism necessitated by an empire. The U.S. empire has too many big plans for that part of the world to risk being standoffish to the new prime minister of India, no matter how responsible he may have been for a little, old massacre way, way back in 2002.

    • Citizen on May 21, 2014, 4:54 am

      “Modi has made no secret of the fact that Hindus coming into India are to be preferred. Before a rally in Silchar in south Assam during February, Modi claimed that Hindu migrants from Bangladesh took precedence over “infiltrating” Muslims, who should be sent back. “We have a responsibility toward Hindus who are harassed and suffer in other countries. Where will they go? India is the only place for them. We will have to accommodate them here.”
      Modi sees India as the beacon for the global Hindu community – those, for instance “harassed in Fiji”, or in Mauritius. He even makes reference to the United States and harassment of Hindus. “Naturally they will come to India.” Nationality, in the Modi argot, is seemingly a matter of religion more than citizenship.”

      Modi’s Hindu India seems to be a carbon copy of Bibi’s Jewish Israel. A match made in heaven?

      • Stephen Shenfield on May 21, 2014, 8:16 am

        India, Israel, Ukraine, Russia — aggressive nationalism on the rise wherever you look. And yet there is something strange about all these nationalisms. In the areas of culture, religion, human rights etc. they reject all universal values, including those generally regarded as concomitants of globalization, and erect walls around their supposedly unique “civilizations” (and real walls too, of course, to keep out migrants of the “wrong” kind). But in the economic field they show little if any interest in defending national interests against the threats of globalization (swamping of domestic markets by cheap imports, foreigners acquiring big swathes of land and other important assets, etc.). The “free market” is the one universal value they all accept. The wealthy oligarchs play the world market with no concern for the survival of national economies, while at the same time they fund virulent cultural nationalists — the adepts of ultra-Zionism, Hindutva, Holy Rus, Ukraine uber alles, etc. What are they up to? Think about it.

      • Citizen on May 21, 2014, 9:36 am

        @ Stephen Shenfield

        Yes. I see this too. I think it goes so because the wealthy elite in any country only care about gaining more wealth, and anything to gain that is what they will do, or not do. In any given case, country, they look at what they guess will most benefit their power/money status. It’s the old “follow the money” analysis. So, now that I’ve given my initial analysis, what is yours? You can call my initial analysis the Rothschild analysis, when you address this comment. You do remember that the Rothschilds funded early Zionist goals, right? And I hope you address the likes of Sheldon Adelson, and what Bibi N learned while he was living in the USA, amongst the ivy league embryos and spawn.

      • eljay on May 21, 2014, 9:37 am

        >> Citizen @ May 21, 2014 at 4:54 am

        Another vaunted democracy strives to be another supremacist state.

        Should India choose to follow Israel’s lead and strive to be a little bit better than the worst (rather than as good as the best), what countries, I wonder, will be its Saudi Arabia, Mali and African “hell-holes”?

  6. traintosiberia on May 21, 2014, 5:30 am

    Compare the coverage by NYT. of the election of Modi to the election of Morsi in Egypt
    . It is again obvious that. Israel is factored in the portrayal.

  7. Keith on May 21, 2014, 8:11 pm

    JAMES NORTH- “The business community, in both India and internationally, is ecstatic at Modi and his BJP party’s big win; after all, it contributed as much as $1 billion to his campaign.”

    The empire has helped transform India into a Hindu-fascist neoliberal basket case. South Africa is an economic apartheid basket case. With this in mind, it is long past time to stop lionizing Gandhi and Mandela. Both contented themselves with political changes while leaving the structures of economic domination untouched. As a consequence, both India and South Africa are locked in a framework of global corporate/financial control. Both, in effect, represent the effective imperial co-optation of resistance to Western control and exploitation. Both countries continue to languish in massive poverty for the majority, alongside lavish riches for the elites. Modi suits the empire just fine

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