Vested Interests Feed the US Angst on India

By Kollengode S Venkataraman

When it was made known last October that Narendra Modi could be the prime ministerial candidate of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) for the elections in April 2014, The New York Times’ Editorial Board wrote a scathing piece ( blaming Modi for the 2002 Godhra communal violence, among other things. However, as the editorial itself noted, Indian Supreme Court’s Special Investigating Team, (SIT) appointed to inquire into the Godhra communal violence, cleared Modi of any wrongdoing. Besides, Modi is in his fourth successive term as Gujarat’s popularly elected chief minister; and under his rule, Gujarat has become better on many fundamental measures. Read Milan Vaishnav here:

The US Government denied Chief Minister Modi diplomatic visa in 2005. New Delhi protested only through bureaucrats, not through cabinet ministers. The US Embassy in Delhi interpreted India’s muted protest thus ( India’s UPA government, after having gone through the motions by protesting the U.S. decision, was “unlikely to ratchet up the pressure further.” This is no way to treat a business-friendly, forward-looking, and a popular elected leader. After all, all governments expediently give visas even to unsavory, corrupt foreign leaders.

• In mid-November in 2013, a bipartisan resolution (H.R. 417) introduced in the US Congress praised the US government for its 2005 decision to deny Gujarat Chief Minister and BJP Prime Ministerial candidate Narendra Modi a visa to enter the U.S. The resolution urged the US “to publicly oppose the exploitation of religious differences and denounce harassment and violence against religious minorities, especially in the run-up to India’s general elections in 2014.—

Without naming Modi or BJP, the House resolution says, “Contrary to the tolerant and pluralistic traditions of the Hindu faith, strands of the Hindu nationalist movement have advanced a divisive and violent agenda that has harmed the social fabric of India.” The proposed House resolution also recommends that the US-India Strategic Dialogue raise the issue of religious freedom and related human rights “directly with federal and state Indian Government officials when appropriate.” The US Congress introduces resolutions like this only at the urging of the Administration or heavy lobbying from social, political, and religious groups to sway the outcome of Indian national elections in April.

That aside, replacing “Hindu” with “Christian” and “India” with “US” in the resolution, one can see parallels between India and the US. It is educative here to know the Baptist-Presbyterian Christian majority’s intolerance ( towards Sikhs and Hindus in India’s Mizoram. Such incidents are rarely reported in the West.

If this is what the US Congress members want, they can visit India or ask the US. Embassy officials in India to meet with Indian elected leaders like Mr. Modi with civility due to any popularly elected leader. Or they could invite Mr. Modi to visit the US to hear him out. But this will not happen, given the hold of lobbyists on the US governments. Consider these:

Since the right to make representation to government is enshrined in the US Constitution, professional lobbying by agents on behalf of vested interests is how things get done in Washington. According to Reuters, Washington has over 12,000 registered federal lobbyists. But seven times that number, or 90,000 people (excluding support staff) from diverse business, political, social, and religions backgrounds are engaged in lobbying that do not fit the legal definition of a registered lobbyist.

And several resourceful Christian denominations whose enshrined creed is proselytizing all over the world (often not caring for local sensitivities) have great influence on elected, appointed, and military officials in the US at every level. India with its over one billion people is a free and fascinatingly diverse country on many measures including faith more so than many European nations. So India, with its 80% Hindu population that is loose, diverse, stratified, fragmented and poor, is a soft target for increasing the market share of proselytizing religions like Christianity (and Islam) that aggressively seek converts. Proselytizing is something they cannot easily do in China, Indonesia, Pakistan, Malaysia, or Bangladesh, not to mention the Middle East, Central Asia, even Russia.

•  And then we have influential commentators, social scientists and economists in India and the US (most of them Indians and Indian-Americans), educated to gaze at India only through Western lenses and paradigms. These people are intellectually incapable or unwilling even to consider alternative narratives and approaches for understanding and addressing India’s complex social and economic issues.

These factors synergistically influence official US policies on India to serve the interests of these special interest groups. ‘

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