India's new Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, has reason to cause a stir internationally.
Not only did his hard-right party, the BJP, achieve a historically resounding victory in the month-long national election that ended in May, but he is part of the fascist core of that party, a group called the RSS, or “National Patriotic Organisation.” The RSS was banned three times in post-independence India, the first in 1948 after one of its members assassinated Gandhi over his support for Pakistan independence and Muslim rights.
But the real stir for Canadians should be that, for the last 12 years, Modi has been denied a visa to Canada, and has been shunned by several other Western countries, including the United States, for events much more recent than 1948.
His visa denial to Canada was based on a provision of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act that bars suspected human rights abusers. In 2002, he was chief minister of the Indian state of Gujarat when thousands of Muslims were killed in organized pogroms by the Hindu religious right.
The gangs were sometimes thousands-strong and armed with swords, explosives and gas cylinders. According to Human Rights Watch, they obtained addresses of Muslims from the local administration, and the attacks were organised “with extensive participation of the police and state government officials.” Although Modi was officially exonerated by the Supreme Court of India, he will not be the first head of state to get away with organized murder.
But there are two major questions for those watching this victory for the hard right from Canada.
Right-wing reaction to austerity
The first question is: how and why did this happen in India, where some of the largest national general strikes and deep resistance to austerity have occurred in recent years?
On the one hand, India is not unique in seeing a turn to the right, including to the far-right, in response to the economic crisis and the failure of the electoral left to represent a real alternative to it—like in France. India’s rulers promised that under the incumbent liberal Congress Party the country’s economic boom would be fairly distributed. But this promise proved to be a mirage during the boom. Now, with inflation soaring while the poor get poorer, few ordinary people think Congress will defend them.
Millions once followed the Communist parties into strike waves, land seizures and polling booths. But since 2007 they have championed “economic development” at the expense of workers and poor people. The result is that they have lost even their heartland states of Kerala and West Bengal. At their height, the Communists’ class struggle politics provided a basis for Hindu-Muslim unity among workers. This could temporarily keep the RSS in check. But today disparate national and local forces are taking advantage of the Communists’ weaknesses. Resolving “how did this happen,” and how can it change, lies with the working people of India.
The second question for those watching from Canada is: will Ottawa now welcome Modi with open arms? Not only for “diplomatic” reasons, but because Canada has a significant stake in economic relations with India? Harper’s welcoming of other criminals—from George Bush to Benjamin Netanyahu—gives a hint of how Harper will respond to Modi, as does Harper’s denial of Canada’s own genocide against First Nations.
But the answer lies with us as much as it does with Harper. How long will we tolerate the selective condemnation of human rights abuse? How long will we tolerate the selective treatment, of both countries and individuals, guilty of that abuse, based on their power and economic interest to Canada’s rich?