When Genocide Masquerades as Nationalism
by Praful Bidwai
IT is astonishing, and distressing, that the United
States decision to deny a visa to Mr Narendra
Modi should have caused a great outpouring of crude
nationalistic sentiment and anger at Washingtons
supposed discourtesy, its interference
in Indias affairs, and lack of sensitivity towards
its democratic process. This issue produced the strangest
of bedfellows: some secularists who rightly regard
Mr Modi as the perpetrator of Indias worst state-sponsored
communal pogrom found themselves on the same side
as Bharatiya Janata Party apologists of the gruesome
The Prime Minister, Dr Manmohan Singh strongly protested
against the US discourteous decision,
saying it is not appropriate to use allegations
or anything less than due process to make a subjective
judgment to question a constitutional authority.
His government got worked up enough to ask the US
to reconsider its decision. Many of the BJPs
political adversaries too joined the chorus. Even
sections of the Left were ambivalent on the issue.
This column argues that the visa denial should be
unreservedly welcomed by all secular democrats who
believe in justice, in particular, justice for the
victims of the Gujarat carnage. The cause involved
here politically punishing a crime against
humanity transcends national boundaries and
considerations of protocol or courtesy
something no criminal can demand. Anything
that promotes the political isolation of and denies
respectability to communal criminals like Mr Modi
should be a cause for celebration. This rationale
remains valid even if one takes as I do
a strongly critical view of the US hegemonic
and largely negative global role and the double standards
and hypocrisy that characterise American policy.
To start with, four points are in order. First, the
denial of a visa to Mr Modi does not constitute interference
in Indias affairs. All states reserve the right
to grant or deny visas to foreign nationals. India
routinely rejects thousands of visa applications every
year. So does the US. In the past, the US used to
bar the entry of anyone who is a member of a Communist
party or related organisations. New Delhi never took
up cudgels on the behalf of those who were denied
visas on this ground. Doing so in the Modi case presumes
that some fundamental right or worthy principle has
Yet, getting a visa is not a right. No foundational
human value is injured by its denial. Mr Modi was
not invited to deliver some elevated discourse at
a learned society or perform a diplomatic duty, but
to address the Asian-American Hotel Owners Association.
A large proportion of its members are ethnic-Gujarati
sangh parivar sympathisers.
Second, the Indian government is wrong to claim that
Washington made a subjective or baseless
judgment. The US based itself on findings of our own
Supreme Court and National Human Rights Commission!
Third, it is incorrect to invoke Mr Modis status
as a constitutional authority (which he
is not), or even a duly elected chief minister. Mr
Modi was not acting constitutionally, but in violation
of the Constitution when he instigated the violence
that led to the killing of 2,000 innocent citizens
and the rape of thousands. That is the material fact
The US is not hostile to the BJP. It bears recalling
that the first Bush administration reacted to the
Gujarat violence without outrage and serious concern.
On the contrary, it coddled the BJP. Unlike the European
Union, the US did not issue a protest demarche to
India. And Mr Modi boasted of similarities between
President Bushs campaigning style and himself!
Finally, while we must always guard against, and
counter, the US abuse to imperial ends of the
enormous power it holds, it is important to comprehend
that it is not the Bush administration that took the
initiative in the present case. Rather, the initiative
was taken by US-based NRI civil society activists
who have long been campaigning for secular causes.
The US revoked Mr Modis visa under Section
212(a)(2)(G) of the Immigration and Nationality Act
for carrying out severe violations of religious
freedom. The accuracy of the assessment is indisputable.
At least 20 independent inquiries by Indian jurists
and scholars have found Mr Modi guilty of instigating
and guiding the Gujarat pogrom.
Serious crimes of the kind that Mr Modi committed
demand universal corrective action, including boycotts
and visa denials everywhere. Perpetrators of genocide
should be shunned by all countries. The issue of justice
transcends considerations of state sovereignty. In
fact, sovereignty does not vest in states. It vests
in people. It must never be invoked as a shield to
protect horrendous wrongdoing and gross human rights
The world has only made modest progress towards establishing
criminal liability at the international level. Most
states are notoriously unwilling to abridge the notion
of absolute sovereignty sanctified in the 1648 Treaty
of Westphalia. The most important abridgments lie
in the Geneva Conventions, conventions like the International
Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and disarmament
agreements, and the International Criminal Court which
is designed to try crimes against humanity. But the
ICC is opposed by the US, China and India, among others,
and remains ineffectual.
The world must do better. The slap delivered to Mr
Modi is a step in that direction. But its more.
For one, it underscores the crying need to bring the
guilty of Gujarat to book-through systematic and earnest
prosecution, which demands rectifying defects deliberately
introduced in recording FIRs. For another, its
a reminder that if a state fails to punish crimes
against humanity, the world can and must intervene.
Thats why Slobodan Milosevic is on trial and
Pinochet has been indicted in numerous countries for
crimes committed in the 1970s and 1980s-despite his
old age. And for a third, India must not take refuge
under words like due process, which it
says, the US has not followed. India has itself failed
on due process in Gujarat-as in Delhi in the 1980s,
and Kashmir in the 1990s.
The Modi visa issue should become an opportunity
to draw global attention to the persecution of religious
minorities and the need to punish it effectively.
Bringing Mr Modi to book means abjuring the temptation
to take a chauvinist or jingoist position. Nationalism
is no defence against genocide. (Navhind Times)