The United States of America, as the world's most powerful democracy, shares a fraternal bond with other democracies. This is especially true when it comes to the world's largest democracy - India. India can be proud that, since gaining independence from the British in 1947, the nation has had an uninterrupted democratic tradition. It may be mind-boggling, but it's true that with such an incredible diversity of religions, cultures, languages, traditions, and attitudes, Indian democracy asserts itself over these seemingly insurmountable factors. The key to this success has been India's commitment to secularism and its powerful constitution that guarantees equality to all its citizens in every aspect of life.
India is facing a stern test for its much vaunted democratic values as it prepares for general elections to be held in April 2014. Should we as Americans be concerned about the impact of these developments in the world's largest democracy? The answer is an emphatic YES.
India's main opposition party, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), is the political wing of the RSS. The RSS is the very same organization that was banned by the Government of India after Mahatma Gandhi was assassinated in 1948 by a member of this group.
The BJP has chosen Narendra Modi as its Prime Ministerial candidate for the 2014 general elections. Modi is best known for his government's failure to prevent the killing of over 2000 members of a minority community in the Indian state of Gujarat in 2002. In the International Religious Freedom Report of 2003, the United States Department of State found that, ‘‘In Gujarat, the worst religious violence directed against Muslims by Hindus took place in February and March 2002, leaving an estimated 2,000 dead and 100,000 displaced into refugee camps. It was alleged widely that the police and state government did little to stop the violence promptly, and at times even encouraged or assisted Hindus involved in the riots. Despite substantial evidentiary material, the judicial commission responsible for investigating the riots reported inconclusive findings.’’
Modi is considered a persona non grata by the United States and was denied entry into the country in 2005 on the grounds of a religious freedom violation under the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998, the first and only time such a denial has been issued. The supreme court of India likened him to a "modern day Nero." Various human rights groups have compiled numerous reports of unimaginable human rights abuses under his watch. For instance, Human Rights Watch (HRW) published a comprehensive report titled “We Have No Orders to Save You': State Participation and Complicity in Communal Violence in Gujarat.”
In a bi-partisan initiative, Congressmen Keith Ellison (D-MN) and Joe Pitts (R-Pa) introduced a resolution in Congress on November 18, 2013, calling on India to protect the rights and freedoms of religious minorities. It also called on the State Department to keep enforcing the denial of an entry visa to the tainted and controversial Indian politician, Narendra Modi. The resolution now has 22 co-sponsors, including Congresswoman Betty McCollum (D-MN).
According to Congressman Ellison's press release:
“This resolution’s strong bipartisan support shows that the rights of religious minorities in India are a priority for the U.S. Congress,” said Ellison. “All Indians should have the right to practice their faith freely, or to change their faith if they so choose. India is big enough for all its citizens. Its best leaders have worked to promote unity among its diverse populations, not division.”
“The victims of events like the riots in Gujarat demand justice,” said Pitts. “The Indian government cannot expect to make greater strides on religious freedom and human rights in the future while countless thousands have not seen justice for their lost loved ones. Right now, millions of Indians face threats like harassment, displacement and outright persecution due to communal and religious violence. India is a land of unrivaled religious diversity, but with such diversity comes great responsibility in ensuring the rights of religious minorities.”
The complete text of the resolution can be read here .
Rep. Ellison and Rep. McCollum do Minnesotans proud by their unwavering and unequivocal support of human rights. By denying human rights abusers like Modi entry into the United States, the message that the U.S. is sending out is clear that Indian democracy is better served by leaders who honor human rights and the rights of all citizens in India.