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UK parliamentarians have invited the far-right chief minister of Gujarat, Narendra Modi, despite his role in the mass murder of minorities. The opposition Labour Party and Conservative-led government risk serious embarrassment, and worse, if they do not act now to distance themselves from this controversial politician.
Modi’s ambition to become prime minister of India, a regional power armed with nuclear weapons, poses a threat far beyond the nation’s borders. The invitation by the Labour Friends of India, followed by the Conservative Friends of India, seems to be part of campaign to rehabilitate him internationally. This would increase his chance of taking charge of the world’s second most populous country.
He is a key figure in a Hindu supremacist movement that is opposed by many moderate Hindus, along with people of other faiths and none. In 2002, while he ran Gujarat, armed attackers were allowed to massacre Muslims and carry out ethnic cleansing.
The courts have been slow to bring those responsible for coordinating the violence to justice. However last year his aide Maya Kodnani was sentenced to 28 years’ imprisonment for her part in murdering 97 people in 2002.
Widow Zakia Jafri was one of the survivors of a massacre at Gulbarg Housing Society, where her husband, ex-Congress MP Ehsan Jafri, and 68 other Muslims seeking shelter in their home, were brutally murdered.(http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/node/15793, http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/node/16298) Her persistence in pursuing a case against Modi through the courts has unearthed potentially highly damaging evidence about his role.
Though protesting his innocence, in mid-2013 he provocatively compared the 2002 riots to the accidental killing of a dog: “If someone else is driving a car and we are sitting behind, even then if a puppy comes under the wheel, will it be painful or not? Of course it is. If I am a chief minister or not, I am a human being. If something bad happens anywhere, it is natural to be sad."
He also now faces serious allegations of being an accessory to unlawful ‘encounter killings’ in 2004. Police supposedly killed four Muslims, including a 19-year-old woman, Ishrat Jahan, and falsely labelled them terrorists.
Other vulnerable groups too have faced harassment in Gujarat, including Christians and Dalits.
In India, there is now greater awareness of the risk posed by ‘Hindutva’ terrorism, yet dissatisfaction with the ruling Congress Party has driven some voters towards their extreme right-wing rivals.
Modi continues to stir up dangerous bigotry, saying in 2013 that Congress hides behind a “burqa of secularism”.
He has reportedly indicated that he has no immediate plans to visit the UK. It is uncertain whether he would even be allowed to enter – people have been barred on far less serious grounds. But, unless Labour and Conservative leaders act swiftly to distance themselves from the invitations by certain MPs from their parties, their moral credibility will be in shreds.
“The invitation is a culmination of several years of engagement between senior representatives of the Labour Party and Narendra Modi," Labour MP Barry Gardiner reportedly said.
“It would be a great privilege for us to host an event for you,” Conservative MP Sailesh Vara apparently wrote. The survivors of communal violence in Gujarat may have a different view.
Yet excruciating embarrassment for UK leaders is not the greatest danger. If Modi’s overseas sympathisers help to propel him to power, the risks are enormous, not only for the 1.2 billion people of India but also for an already unstable world.
(c) Savitri Hensman is a regular Christian commentator on politics, social justice, welfare and religion. She was written extensively on the theological and religious issues involved in debates about sexuality and marriage equality. She works in the care and equalities sector and is an Ekklesia associate.Tweet