A Call to Arms

The Politics of 'Free Speech'
Putting Academic Freedom and Pedagogy in Context
The Persecution of Ward Churchill
Columbia Undone: The Anatomy of a Controversy
Zionism vs. Intellectual and Political Freedom on American College Campuses
Hindutva and the Politics of "Free Speech"
US Universities Cozy Up to the Sangh
Taking it to the Street
A MODIfied Affair
Domestic Elites - Neoliberal Goondas on a Rampage
Challenging Corporate Callousness and State Indifference: The Ongoing Struggle for Justice in Bhopal!
Campus Activism
People of Color and the Need for Solidarity: Bridging the Divide
Resisting the "Chief"
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Youth Solidarity Summer
New York: August 2005
Organizing Youth (OY!)
San Fransisco, August 2005
RadDesi Summer
Austin, June 2005
Students for Bhopal

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ll that happened was that Narendra Modi's application for a diplomatic visa was rejected and his standing business visa was also revoked. How unfortunate! The one thing that was ensured by the American State 's pre-emptive strike was that Modi was spared an embarrassment of a first round KO at the Madison Square Garden . For almost a week before the news of the visa revocation came, New York City had been agog with Modi talk in both desi and non-desi circles. A random businessman from Jackson Heights called me to say that he was closing his shop on March 20th so that he and his employees could attend our demonstrations. White Americans who could not have placed Gujarat on a map were calling to offer support. One group of ritual drummers offered to show up and play the drums. Some other folks were planning on getting hold of the 1000 coffins that had marched at the RNC and bring them in for the Modi demo. I would have loved to see two sets of faces: Modi's and the NYC cops. Modi's for obvious reasons. The cops because they were expected a gathering of fifty and would have had to deal with the 7th Avenue being brought to a standstill for several blocks on either side of the Garden. I hope neither Modi nor his fascist American crew are discouraged by the attitude of their darling American State and persevere to bring him to the US . I wish Modi would accept an invitation from the so-called Indian communists in the US . We sure would love to have him here.


So, apart from a confirmation that the American State seems to have fallen into a practice of unnecessary pre-emptive strikes, what else have we learnt in this process? The question asked most often is "Why did the American State do this?"




Modi's visa was revoked as a result of careful, energetic planning. The coalition that came together to block his visit to the US swept through the first few months of 2005 and marks the emergence of a youthful, diverse and multi-sited movement against the forces of state sponsored fascism. The Coalition Against Genocide (CAG) came together in the middle of February with the express purpose of a mobilization against Modi. By mid-March, the Coalition had more than 35, remarkably diverse constituent organizations - from progressive groups such as the Forum of Inquilabi Leftists (FOIL) to South Asia Progressive Action Collective (SAPAC), from youth organizations such as Youth Solidarity Summer (YSS) to Organizing Youth (OY!), religious groups such as the Indian Muslim Council (IMC) to the Vaishnav Center of Michigan and the Sikh American Heritage Organization (SAHO), regional organizations such as The world Tamil Organization, women's groups such as Manavi and human rights organizations such as the Minnesota Human Rights Advocates and Students for Justice in Bhopal. Many other organizations such as a South Asia Interest Group Faculty list, the Institute for Religion and Public Policy, Tikkun and the Council of American Islamic Relations gave support from outside.


As early as the second week of February, CAG constituents had received reports from sources that Modi's visit to the US had the RSS's blessing. The RSS, we were told, had indicated to Modi and his supporters in the BJP that if Modi could rehabilitate his image which had taken a beating because of the heroic work done by the left in India and abroad, then he would be prime candidate for BJP party presidentship in less than five years. The US visit was to be step one in the effort to rehabilitate Modi's international image. By March 1 the mobilization had generated breathtaking momentum. The Institute for Religion and Public Policy (IRPP) petitioned Condy Rice that Modi be denied a visa. The faculty group and some CAG constituents moved this petition into multiple fora in the US mainstream. CAG joined the effort at the level of preparing a detailed dossier on Modi that listed every crime he was known for and handed it over to the CAG constituents in DC. CAG's overall mobilization plank was to go after the corporate sponsors and other public personalities associated with Modi's visit. By March 5 th , Chris Mathews had withdrawn from the AAHOA conference and thereby decided that he would not share the stage with Modi (even though officially he claimed a schedule conflict). American Express was wobbling like crazy on withdrawal of support (which it finally did). Shortly thereafter, Congressman Conyers had introduced H. Res. 156 exposing Modi on the Hill. The Office of NYC City Council Speaker Gifford Miller was scrambling to find out, in the words of a junior staffer, "who the hell this Modi was?" As CAG's size grew we had also increased our intelligence gathering efforts. We knew by March 11 th the total number of buses that the Sangh had booked for bussing in people from CT, MA, NJ and LI. On March 10 th , we received a report from a CAG constituent that a faction in the Overseas Friends of the BJP (OFBJP) was in conversation with Advani seeking permission to pressure AAHOA into withdrawing the invitation to Modi.


But the most classic piece of intelligence came through on March 15th . Quoting a source in the Gandhinagar bureaucracy, a CAG constituent reported: "I have reliable information that the US is going to deny Modi his diplomatic visa and they are waiting for Condoleezza Rice to leave India before making the official announcement." This was more than 48 hours before the US Consular announcement on March 18 th . If a senior bureaucrat in Gandhinagar knew of the visa denial more than 48 hours before its announcement, there is much that we can gather from it, especially because it unfolded precisely as was predicted.

  • Every level of the US state department from Washington DC to the consular offices in India were involved in a well thought-out and perfectly executed plan.
  • The Indian political establishment from Manmohan Singh to L K Advani, all knew what was coming.


This leaves us with a whole new angle on this episode. Why did the two States -- the Indian and the American -- do what they did? The Indian government's reaction is quite easy to figure. The worst case reading is that Manmohan Singh and gang did indeed read this issue as a case of a geopolitical insults game while the best case scenario is that they responded in the way they did -- registering a loud complaint with the US state -- to take the wind out of the BJP mobilization around the issue. But why the American State did what it did is a far more confusing question, and bears some attention. Here are some possible reasons:

  1. The US State was acting on moral principle.
  2. The US State, embroiled as it was in controversy after controversy of being a discriminatory apparatus -- especially with regards Muslims -- was trying to score brownie points with the Muslim community.
  3. Numerous Islamic scholars from the Middle East had been denied visa by the US in the past several months and CAIR was believed to be launching a strategy of seeking a legal ruling on Modi on grounds of religious freedom. CAIR was, reports say, expecting to lose the case which they could then use to mobilize against the US state on the grounds that perfectly middle of the road Islamic scholars get denied visas but a person like Modi with an abominable human rights record could get a visa. Maybe, some sources say, the US State became privy to this campaign and decided to pre-empt it.
  4. The CAG public mobilization had reached such a pitch that the US State was aware of a possible public embarrassment that it could ill afford. Especially with corporate America jumping ship, it certainly had begun to pick up momentum as a story in the US media.
  5. The US State was aware of the possibility of a favorable response from the Christian right wing. CAG intelligence received an unsubstantiated report on March 9 th that a Christian right wing group was to launch a public mobilization on the following Monday. The same source however ultimately failed to confirm this mobilization in his next several reports. Further, all efforts to track a Christian right wing mobilization on this issue inside US church groups yielded a complete blank indicating that no such mobilization had happened. However, in as much as the arch right winger Congressman Joseph Pitts did swing into action supporting the Conyers resolution, we must admit that the US State was at least tangentially aware of the possible favorable response to their decision from the Christian right wing.
  6. In the scheme of geo politics it is possible that acting in a heavy handed way on Modi allowed the US to remind India where exactly power lay in a larger battle: The US' power in revoking Modi's visa might have provided a gently nudge in establishing hierarchy over India's claims to be a global power and seek recognition through a permanent seat on the Security Council.


Of all these, we can clearly discount the first reason that the US State was indeed acting on moral principle. Nothing could be further from the truth. States, not just the American one, are generally not known for acting out of moral principle (with the possible exception of Cuba which has consistently acted on principle on all international issues in the recent past). Further, if there was a State in the current scheme of things that was the least morally directed and the worst violator of every principle, it is the US . Hence we don't need to worry ourselves with that reason being even in the realm of the possible. Once we discount the first reason, the remaining five all have a reasonable possibility of being valid and what is more, none of them contradict the other. It is therefore possible that some combination of the above five reasons played out in tandem. There are two important lessons to be learnt from this.


The first is that the CAG mobilization did indeed create the public context for US State action. In the contradictions created by imperialist politics there is considerable space for the left to act strategically. We certainly don't need to celebrate the US State action. But we can definitely take credit for a significant and carefully crafted public mobilization that was aimed at ensuring that Modi's image does not get even a modicum of respectability through a successful US tour. In as much as our objectives were fully met, we must celebrate.


The second lesson is to do with the Christian right wing. The Hindutva lobby in India will attempt to use this incident to claim that the Christian right wing was the chief antagonist, in spite of the fact there is no evidence to this at all. Their effort will be to use this claim to polarize the middle-of-the-road Hindu who lives peaceably with his Christian neighbors into a sense of insecurity. We have to guard against such a fashioning of a political campaign. And the road for such a defense is perfectly clear.


Speaking in an internationalist vein, the desi left here in the US and UK must more closely monitor the Christian right wing in the US. People like Pitts must be under constant observation. The Christian right wing has a long involvement with global imperialism. Every time a left force takes root in a third world country you can be almost sure that the Christian right wing with pots of money will show up and get involved with everything from the nastiest evangelism to the funneling of money to paramilitary groups. Numerous countries in Latin America stand testimony to this strategy. Ironically, India does not have this problem to any significant degree at this point and Hindutva claims to this effect are grossly exaggerated. But as part of an internationalist effort, we must join hands with those who monitor and act against the Christian right wing here. And make sure that in the process we do not unwittingly abet the Hindutva strategy. Given the nature of the US administration, this task becomes even more urgent. In India , significant parts of the left oppose the Christian right. The distinction to retain is between the traditional missionaries --churches such as the Catholic and Jesuit churches, the CSI and Syrian Christian churches among many others -- and the evangelicals. Many of the former are pathetically conservative but at least here our opposition to general religious conservatism is not the issue. Far more dangerous and those who need to be stridently opposed are the new evangelical churches that have been moving in, especially in the post-liberalization phase. Initiatives such as the AD2000 movement, Gospel For Asia and the Southern Baptists are all part of this radical malaise that has no respect for the secular ethos of the country. The more active we get in opposition to these groups the better we will serve the purpose of defending secularism in India and opposing imperialism the world over.


Photo Courtesy of http://rogouski.com/gallery/Protest-Against-Narendra-Modi