A packed meeting hosted by John McDonnell, MP for Hayes and Harlington and supported by Jeremy Corbyn, MP for Islington North, took place at Westminster yesterday (26 February), focusing on the role of Narendra Modi, Chief Minister of Gujarat during the communal violence of 2002. Modi is the prime ministerial candidate for the far-right Bharatiya Janata Party in India’s forthcoming elections.
Messages of support were received from many individuals and organisations, including Sir Anish Kapoor, CBE, who is one of the world’s most eminent artists and Baroness Helena Kennedy, QC, a distinguished British barrister and human rights campaigner and Mike Wood, MP for Balley.
Anish Kapoor wrote, “I am deeply grateful that you are doing this. We are in a moment of great danger and your call to our sense of justice is much needed”.
Suresh Grover of The Monitoring Group outlined key events during the ‘orgy of violence’ in 2002 and Narendra Modi exposed: challenging the myths surrounding the BJP’s prime ministerial candidate, an extensively researched report, was launched.
Professor Chetan Bhatt, Director of the Centre for the Study of Human Rights at the London School of Economics, spoke of Modi’s links with the ‘Hindutva’ movement, which uses the guise of religion for its extremist brand of politics, and of its "deliberate attempt to suppress freedom of speech" in this country.
Virendra Sharma MP (Ealing Southall) had originally agreed to host the meeting but withdrew after coming under pressure from supporters of Modi, who had attempted to have the event cancelled.
Pragna Patel, of Southall Black Sisters, spoke on the movement’s disturbing attitude to, and treatment of, women, including sexual violence "unprecedented in nature".
Gautam Appa, Emeritus Professor at the London School of Economics, exposed the inaccuracy of claims often made by BJP supporters that the Supreme Court has cleared Modi of responsibility and that Gujarat is a model of good governance and prosperity.
"There is international consensus that Narendra Modi was responsible for the 2002 genocidal attacks in Gujarat" wrote Anish Kapoor. "India' s long history of cultural and ethnic tolerance is gravely in peril with the rise of this politician whose association with the fascist right cannot any longer be hidden. It is deplorable therefore that Britain continues to dialogue with this man and that British parliamentarians and businessmen shamelessly extend a hand of friendship to him and his political associates."
Helena Kennedy warned that "Sectarianism is a scourge in our modern world and any politician or political party inciting, encouraging or creating a supportive landscape for such hostilities should be roundly condemned. Modi is a serious danger to peace in India and beyond. I strongly support the campaign to expose the threat he and his supporters present."
A parliamentary Early Day Motion was announced, and a delegation of MPs to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office asked that there should be no engagement with Modi until he has been held legally accountable for his role in the violence. The meeting also heard that action is underway for an international tribunal on genocide in Gujarat.
Imran Dawood, who was with his uncles when they were killed during the horrific communal violence against Muslims in Gujarat in 2002 was also present at the meeting. Over 1,500 people died (including three British nationals), hundreds of women were raped and 200,000 people driven from their homes.
Mr Dawood survived despite his own injuries and his family are pursuing a civil case against Modi. "We have no hatred in our hearts of anybody. We are Gujaratis and love Gujarat and its culture”, he said. However, he pointed out that “you can’t just brush things under the carpet if you’re going to progress.”
Mike Wood, MP for Batley where the Dawoods lived, sent a message of support: “I extend my whole-hearted support for prosecuting Mr Modi, not least for the communal violence in the state of Gujarat in 2002 which claimed so many innocent lives including that of my constituents and their driver. He should remain banned from this country irrespective of the results of the upcoming Indian elections until he has been brought to account for his actions in fermenting racial and religious violence and bigotry."