by Suman Guha Mozumder, March 25, 2005
Arjun Appadurai, provost and senior vice president, New School University, New York, called the US decision to deny a visa to Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi "principled and courageous."
Appadurai - who co-signed a letter of protest sent to Secretary of State Condolezza Rice urging the Bush administration not to permit Modi to come to the US - said he believed the denial of the visa is US recognition of the controversy surrounding the chief minister.
It indicates to the world that the United States retains a deep commitment to human rights of the minorities and to democratic inclusion across the world," the scholar told India Abroad.
Appadurai called Modi's assertion - that the denial of the visa was an insult to the Indian Constitution and gives a lie to the US' claim of respect for democracy since no court has indicted him in connection with the 2002 riots - "twisting' of facts.
"The fact that he has not been indicted by a court of law is only a critique of our judicial institutions," Appadurai, who was joined in the protest by Kamala Vishweswaran, an associate professor at the University of Texas at Austin, among others, said.
"To say he has not been indicted by law and therefore the denial amounts to a stifling of democratic rights is not the correct estimate of this case. This is upholding of democratic rights, Appadurai said.
The anthologist and China expert said the rights of a chief minister to come to the US on a private invitation do not raise any constitutional issues. "As far as Modi's claim of 'insult to the Indian Constitution' is concerned, it is entirely a red herring which should not even arrive.
"And if it arrives at all, it should arrive in the context of Modi's own activities in Gujarat in 2002 and how his government violated the rights of the minorities. That is the real constitutional issue."
"The original violence, perhaps by Muslim activists, within the train [the Sabarmati Express, the S-6 coach which caught fire in Godhra, Gujarat, killing 59 people February 27, 2002] did not have State support. But the violence against Muslims, for the first time perhaps in the history of independent India, had the open support of the state government," he said.
Appadurai said Modi had never distanced himself from the riots.
"As the saying goes, when there is so much smoke, there must be some fire." Modi had lost the right to a moral standing, though he had retained his political standing, he added.
He said the freedom to travel within the US did not have anything to do with dishonoring the Indian Constitution nor would it adversely affect India-US relationships. The US, like India, is a sovereign country and can allow or disallow anyone to come here, he said.
In the wake of Iraq and other such incidents, the US cannot afford to continue to convey the impression that it is indifferent to the question of the inclusion of minorities and pluralism in other parts of the world, he said.
"President Bush's message is about democracy, and, whether we agree with Bush or not, we know he is very much for the principle of freedom, the principle of democracy, which were violated in Gujarat."
Posted March 22, 2005