It is important to speak up for pluralism and respect for all, values threatened by the rise of Narendra Modi, said sculptor Anish Kapoor at a packed meeting at Westminster, London, England, on 1 May 2014.
Modi is chief minister of Gujarat and prime ministerial candidate for the far-right Bharatiya Janata Party in India’s election. Other speakers included distinguished lawyers Helena Kennedy (Baroness Kennedy of The Shaws) and Vrinda Grover, ranked last year by Time magazine as one of 100 most influential figures in the world, and Gautam Appa, Emeritus Professor at the London School of Economics.
At an earlier press conference, Professor Chetan Bhatt, Director of the Centre for the Study of Human Rights at the London School of Economics, Suresh Grover of the Monitoring Group and Pragna Patel of Southall Black Sisters, explained why so many in India and beyond are concerned about Modi, a key figure in the ‘Hindutva’ movement, which uses the guise of religion for its extremist brand of politics.
‘Not In Our Name: Resisting Hindutva, Defending Justice and Human Rights’ was the theme of the meeting, organized by the Avaaz Network. It was chaired by Mike Wood, MP for Batley and Spen in West Yorkshire. Three of his constituents (British citizens on holiday) were among the estimated 1,500-2,000 Muslims murdered in Gujarat in 2002. (http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/node/20228)
Baroness Kennedy, QC FRSA, chair of Justice, the UK section of the International Commission of Jurists, urged that Modi be held to account for his role in the violence. If he were to come to power despite his record, this would involve the "downgrading of terrible crimes" and give an international boost to harmful sectarianism.
World-famous sculptor Anish Kapoor, who was born in India but now lives in Britain, has won numerous awards and received a knighthood in 2013 for services to the visual arts. After he wrote a letter critical of Modi which was co-signed by artists, writers and others, they faced a "barrage of intimidating correspondence". He spoke powerfully of the contrast between the chief minister’s narrow and divisive vision for India and that of Mahatma Gandhi: "The Modi camp fears criticism" because "there is much to hide". We all have a voice and have to "find a way to talk of what we believe in", he urged.
It would be a "disaster for India" if Modi were to be elected, warned Professor Gautam Appa, originally from Ahmedabad in Gujarat, who co-edited and contributed to the recently-published ‘Narendra Modi Exposed: Challenging the Myths Surrounding the BJP’s Prime Ministerial Candidate’. He was one of 75 academics who signed a letter to the press expressing concern about Modi, and he pointed out some of the factual inaccuracies in the BJP’s claims that the chief minister had done wonders for the economy. Minorities, the poor and women have not fared well under the 'Gujarat model of development’, which favours big business, it was explained.
Vrinda Grover further exposed grave failures in governance in Gujarat, where the criminal justice system has been "systematically subverted" and those who question injustice are crudely threatened. A lawyer, researcher and activist based in New Delhi, India, she practices in the Indian Supreme Court and has been involved in drafting laws relating to human rights, women’s rights and social justice. She spoke of the use of extrajudicial killings as "part of the political project" there, and the obstruction faced by a mother whose daughter had been killed, before the chilling truth was revealed by some of the police involved. Modi’s rise poses a "challenge to democracy" in India, she said.
In the discussion which followed, those present shared their hopes and fears for India’s future. One participant, who had been in Gujarat in February 2002, spoke movingly of the horror she witnessed as people were trapped in burning buildings, and the suffering of children in particular. The meeting highlighted the vital importance of recognising a common humanity and defending rights for all.
"Whatever the outcome of the election," commented Suresh Grover afterwards, "all of us are determined to fight for justice and accountability and we won’t be intimidated by threats."