Saffron Dollar April 2004
Campaign to Stop Funding Hate
April 4, 2005
In this issue of Saffron Dollar, we focus on the mobilization to block Narendra Modi's visa to the U.S., which represents a significant success for supporters of social justice and tolerance. Dozens of groups quickly came together to thwart Modi's plans, and compel major corporations to dissociate themselves from his visit. For many progressives, this was cause for unalloyed celebration, as victories against the forces of communalism and hatred are too few and far between to be taken for granted. However, a good many other progressives received the news with a bit more ambivalence. This reaction was due to the fact that Modi's opponents were ultimately dependant on the U.S. state -– that too being the rightwing Christian administration of Bush II –- to be the arbiter in rejecting the visa. Indeed, some view the appeal to the U.S. government as a strategically dubious move. While we at the Campaign to Stop Funding Hate adhere to the latter approach, we nevertheless respect the fact that anti-Sangh groups and individuals differ in their political views.
There is no denying the fact that Modi's visa rejection has caused consternation
among at least the less zealous supporters of Hindutva ideology, both in India and in the U.S. Those members of the Asian American Hotel Owners Association who are in the organization primarily for financial and business advantages, not ideological fanaticism, will perhaps now be emboldened to speak out against future affiliation with votaries of the Sangh Parivar and its destructive agenda. In India, those who have not opposed Modi's “laboratory” of Hindutva extremism might be pushed to reconsider the cost of this bloody experiment – at least in terms of international reputation, if not in human terms. Even within the Sangh Parivar some now consider Modi a liability, as his violent past comes back to haunt him.
We should applaud the success of this mobilization, which has highlighted the
importance of having ready and widespread networks of communication and action. But at the same time, we must remain alert to the fact that progressive social forces are far from strong enough to achieve our aims on our own. To that end, we must continue to work toward strengthening the grassroots base in the fight for social justice.
1. THE STRUGGLE AGAINST THE SANGH PARIVAR CONTINUES
The cancellation of Gujarat chief minister and RSS pracharak Narendra Modi's trips to the U.S. and the U.K. constitute the single biggest political blow to Hindutva in the U.S. in the last two decades. Even as we celebrate the political meaning of this victory, which the Campaign to Stop Funding Hate achieved by working as a constituent of the Coalition Against Genocide, we must make sure that we do so as part of a larger battle for justice for the victims and survivors of the Gujarat genocide. For that, it is necessary that this incident is not seen as a gift from the American state, nor as a blow to India's nationalist pride. Neither must we let it be used to divide Hindu and Muslim immigrants in the U.S. Modi was denied a diplomatic visa because he was not on a diplomatic visit, but was invited by a private organization, the Asian American Hotel Owners Association of America. He was denied a tourist visa due to his violation of the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998. Ironically, the rhetoric of religious and cultural identity in which the Sangh has packaged its hate-filled, violent agenda, and under which it carried on its fund-raising in the U.S., has now backfired against it in the name of religion. Such a moment is not a victory for the American state (as the press in India, and as Hindutva may make it appear); but has quite a different political fallout that goes far
beyond U.S. motives in denying the visa. It certainly shows that Indian immigrant organizing in the U.S., in the form of the 38 organizations that came together as the Coalition against Genocide, has finally evolved into a force strong enough to challenge the Sangh, which had for so long ventriloquized Indian immigrants' voices.
CSFH's role in this coalition was to wage a war of information to isolate Modi and the Sangh. We played an active role in the campaign against the corporate sponsors of Modi, including the Asian American Hotel Owners Association of America, and American Express. We also successfully worked with CAG to get Chris Matthews, MSNBC's host of Hardball, to withdraw from the Fort Lauderdale
event honoring Modi. Today we have a new coalition that can come together to win back the political space the Sangh has usurped for so long. CSFH is not committed to or involved in a politics that promotes the policing of borders; instead it wishes to turn this moment into a long-standing political defeat for the Sangh, and for a victory to the immigrant communities in the U.S. that it has been fooling in the guise of cultural nationalism. This is the time to do outreach, folks, and to get more Indian and regional associations in our localities to dissociate themselves from the Sangh and to dry up its funding pipelines. Let's celebrate this unique moment in the history of immigrant Indian political organizing!
2. SANGH'S “DISCOVERY OF INDIA”
The Hindutvadi response to Modi's U.S. visa cancellation and the wider political
campaign against AAHOA's self-destructive decision to honor him can be classified in two categories: a) predictable ranting by the usual suspects, Hindutva cadres and sympathizers, and b) responses from Hindutva ideologues. The first group's response has been to vent incessantly against secularists, using the usual formulation of curses, wild accusations and outrageous hate speech, while the second group of responses has pushed for a weird ideological improvisation -- suddenly Modi is being cast in the light of a "national" symbol. Unfortunately even Congress leaders and leaders of the parliamentary left have succumbed to the logic of the latter, albeit in their own opportunistic ways.
According to M.V. Kamat and B. Raman for instance, Modi's visa denial is to be seen in two ways: one, by questioning the "patriotism" of those who have positioned themselves against Modi's U.S. visit -- suddenly the Hindutvadis are cast as aggrieved "Indians" while opponents of Modi and Hindutva as "unpatriotic" treasonous individuals. Secondly, by questioning the validity of scores of human rights reports and the Supreme Court of India's position on Modi's complicity in the Gujarat genocide, by engaging in lengthy and facile interrogations of the evidence with the goal of concluding that a) the Gujarat genocide did not happen, or was much smaller and isolated than it actually was, and b) that the Gujarat genocide was a "riot" just like scores of others, representing a characteristic of Indian society that should be considered unfortunate, but attributable to passions, and therefore unavoidable. The latter point is made in conjunction with references to the Godhra train burning (now established by the Banerjee commission as an accidental fire) as an allegedly deliberate, planned attack by "Muslims," and the ensuing genocide as the result of "spontaneous" and unpredictable acts by enraged Hindus. Now,
according to these modern day self-proclaimed geniuses of the Hindu Right, one
should see any opposition to Hindutva as anti-Indian because after all, Modi is truly an "Indian" even if he shreds the constitution to bits, while those calling for legal redress for the victims and censure of the mass murderer and his genocidal and terroristic movement are supposedly anti-national!
This sudden "discovery of India" by the Sangh is mind-boggling in its utter
hypocrisy. Consider this: one of the main organizations coordinating the Madison Square Garden fiasco for Modi was Bajrang Dal's U.S. affiliate, Hindu Unity - a tiny network of activists whose website Hinduunity.org openly advocates violence against Muslims, Christians, secular Hindus and others opposed to its hate politics. On the Madison Square Garden stage where a symbolic empty throne was placed for Modi, two large pictures hung in the background - of Mahatma Gandhi and Vallabhai Patel. Squeezed in between the two was a smaller picture of Modi. The organizers intention through this crude play of imagery stands in screaming contrast to the anti-Gandhi and anti-secular politics that motivate Modi's supporters.
The Hinduunity.org website also includes a glowing dedication to Nathuram Godse, the assassin of Gandhi, while their discussion forum (accessible from the webpage) contains vitriolic denunciations of Gandhi, and many websites linked
to Hinduunity.org are openly dedicated to the memory of Godse and his band of
assassins. Those who praise the assassin of Gandhi think they can hoodwink the world by pasting a picture of their murderous hero next to that of Gandhi!
Mr. Modi of course had compared himself to Gandhi, by drawing the ridiculous and
nonexistent parallel between his U.S. visa denial/cancellation, and Gandhi's forced expulsion from a train in racist South Africa early when he was a young lawyer -- an event that triggered his nationalist anti-colonial sentiments and impelled him to embark on a lifelong struggle against the British empire. The closest link between Modi and Gandhi is that Modi's RSS assassinated the Mahatma, and its followers are carrying on the legacy of Savarkar's fascist collaborationist dream. This is one truth no amount of chicanery can mask. True to the spirit of collaboration with imperialism that Modi inherits from Savarkar, his immediate reaction to the supposedly "grave insult to India" was to hurriedly issue a pathetic invitation to the Bushes -- eager to prove his "love and hospitality" to the imperialists. It seems such running dogs as Hindutvadis can only keep returning and wagging their tails loyally even when the masters boot them. They become "real men" (as the obnoxious Narain Kataria gloated recently in deference to Modi) when attacking innocent human beings, but servile puppies when facing the imperialist -- even when they get a kick in the teeth from the latter! Modi has certainly done Savarkar proud with this display!
One of Modi's U.S.-based fans, AAHOA board member and wealthy hotelier Mr. Sunil Nayak described the placement of an empty garish throne at the Madison Square Garden event as symbolically in the spirit of the Ramayana - just like
Bharata's respectful placement of Rama's slippers on the throne of Ayodhya
while the latter was completing his exile. It appears the Hindutvadis wanted to
crown Modi the new prince of the Sangh, supposedly future Prime Minister material. They expected Modi's crowning in the U.S. to propel him into the limelight, confidently straddling the space between U.S. based Gujarati capital and Hindutva, between U.S. imperialism and Hindutva. Unfortunately for them, that dream has crashed into pieces since the fallout from this dastardly effort to honor a genocidal murderer continues, with eventually disastrous consequences for the AAHOA and its leadership's Sangh cohorts in the U.S. AAHOA's irresponsible leadership has jeopardized the futures of thousands of hard-working Indian hotel owners in the U.S. through this crass attempt to help rehabilitate Narendra Modi.
3. THE MODI CAMPAIGN: A VICTORY FOR PEOPLES' MOBILIZATION!
Three years after the Gujarat Pogrom, in which over 2,000 people (mostly Muslims) were killed, with the complicity of the Government headed by Mr. Narendra Modi, the Asian American Hotel Owners Association (AAHOA) decided to honor Mr. Modi, the overseer of the Gujarat pogroms. The AAHOA invited Mr. Modi as the Chief Guest for their annual Convention and Trade Show to be held on March 24-26 in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida. What these representatives of the hospitality industry had in mind when deciding to honor the man behind the massacre of over 2,000 innocent people is not clear, but what is clear is that the AAHOA leadership has been sufficiently infiltrated to have taken this decision even when a significant number of its members protested the decision.
In February, when this news came into the public domain, over three dozen organizations from the USA and Canada came together under the banner of the Coalition Against Genocide (CAG), to protest the visit. These organizations included grassroots organizations, women's groups, human rights advocacy groups, and community based NGOs with members from diverse religious, ethnic,
and political backgrounds. The formation of the CAG was followed by the painstaking task of collecting information about the participants and sponsors of the AAHOA event, brainstorming the course of action, laying out the campaign and numerous other tasks which seemed very arduous at the first look. But soon, with
everyone's contributions, a strategy was in place which would lead the CAG to many victories.
The first victory came when Mr. Chris Matthews (host of MSNBC's Hardball), a key-note speaker at the convention, withdrew from this scheduled event after a concerted campaign by the CAG. The campaign started with a letter from the CAG, asking Mr. Matthews to cancel his speaking appointment at the AAHOA event, making it clear that by participating in such an event he would be legitimizing a politician better known as the “Butcher of Gujarat”. But, Mr. Matthews withdrew only after the campaign grew in to a peoples' mobilization leading to a large number of phone calls, faxes and emails to Mr. Matthews' office asking him to withdraw.
And this time-tested strategy of public mobilization won yet another victory for the coalition when American Express withdrew its sponsorship to the AAHOA event.
This withdrawal came after pressure from hundreds of concerned people (including numerous American Express card holders) who flooded American Express executives with phone calls and letters of protest, over a period of two weeks. Perhaps recognizing the potential damage to their carefully cultivated public image, American Express withdrew its sponsorship of the AAHOA event on March 23rd, 2005 a day before the Annual Convention. Though dilatory in their response, the withdrawal of American Express nonetheless reveals that concerted protest can
yield results. And as the pressure was sustained, many of the other sponsors for the AAHOA event including Hilton, Home Depot, Choice Hotels, Cendant Corporation and Comcast, also withdrew their sponsorship to the event.
Once again it's clear that peoples' voices count. This victory goes to hundreds of individuals -- activists, academicians, professionals and all others concerned with the issue -- who sent out their message loud and clear -- there is no place for Mr. Modi in the U.S.!
CAMPAIGN TO STOP FUNDING HATE