NEW DELHI — The continuing communal violence in the western Indian state of Gujarat has not only left hundreds dead, but has also led to embarrassing condemnation by world leaders. New Delhi finds itself in an utterly shameful spot, a situation brought on by its own inept handling of the Hindu-Muslim frenzy.
The ruling Bharatiya Janata Party, or BJP, which heads a large coalition in New Delhi, has been mulish in not sacking Narendra Modi, Gujarat’s chief minister, who has been accused of unleashing terror on Muslims with the help of Hindu goons. The reason is simple: Modi belongs to the Hindu nationalist BJP, which administers Gujarat.
Described by independent observers as reminiscent of Nazi brutality, the Gujarat riots have few parallels even in the country’s own history. Barring what India witnessed at the time of partition — when the British divided the subcontinent into India and Pakistan as one of the conditions for ending the 300-year-old colonial rule — the nation of 1 billion people has not seen anything like the present Gujarat outrage.
And, in present times — especially since Sept. 11 — New Delhi has been naive enough to assume that the world would be a mute observer of the carnage and gore: Imagine cutting open a pregnant Muslim woman, taking out the fetus and throwing it into the fire!
Global protests began mildly. First, it was “concern,” expressed by British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw. Later U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Christina Rocca called the violence “horrible”; Finnish Foreign Minister Erkki Tuomioja said “the pictures were very disturbing.”
Then came action of sorts. Swiss Foreign Minister Joseph Deiss met victims in Gujarat and made they were given wide publicity in the international press. The New Delhi British High Commission’s report to its foreign office in London was leaked to newspapers, which printed in bold headlines that the Gujarat massacres were “preplanned and were aimed at removing Muslim influence from the State.”
The German Embassy’s document also found its way to the fourth estate. It spoke of “surgical strikes against Muslims,” and averred that “India’s democratic and secular credentials had been tarnished.”
The most damning criticism has come from the European Union, which did not mince words when it accused the state’s ministers of leading Hindu mobs against the minority Muslims. Worse, charges have been filed in British law courts against Modi by the victims of the Gujarat violence. There is a move to extradite him. All this while New Delhi has been crying till hoarse that Gujarat is an Indian internal matter.
But how can that be? India has been voicing its opinion on just about every issue that could be termed as none of its business. It has chosen to comment on the ethnic strife in Sri Lanka, the treatment of minorities in Bangladesh, the Palestinian problem, and so on.
What is more, India is a signatory to the 1949 Geneva Convention, which urges members to follow rules, norms and principles relating to universally acknowledged human rights. Often in the past, New Delhi had relied upon the convention to protest Pakistan-sponsored abuses in Kashmir. Gujarat belies the entire spirit of the Geneva agreement.
India cannot afford to forget even for a day that it is now part of the global order. It may put its survival at stake if it allows Gujarat to cloud its image further. It receives billions of dollars in aid from many agencies. The World Bank alone granted $1.05 billion last year. The EU is India’s largest trading partner, with an estimated 26 percent share of the nation’s exports and 25 percent of essential imports.
Today, financial assistance and trade are inseparably linked to human rights. New Delhi cannot afford to ignore this. It cannot even deny the Gujarat government’s role in the bloodshed. Television cameras do not lie.
The Indian National Human Rights Commission has issued a notice to the administration, holding it guilty of spearheading something that closely resembles genocide.
Adolf Hitler killed 6 million Jews. Modi has “presided” over fewer deaths, but so what? The evil of such butchery does not diminish with mere numbers.
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