How not to unfriend Narendra Modi
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Are you for Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi or against him? It is a simple question, and a simplifying one. It tells us who you are. Are you a saffron-clad, business-loving, Muslim hater? Or are you a staunch secularist, unwilling to lend voice to the growing clamour for Modi as PM? This is not a thought experiment; it is a question of identity. Choose where you belong.
In a letter delivered to a student-run conference hosted by the University of Pennsylvania, 135 academics and activists told us which side they belonged to. The conference is on "India's evolution from an emerging nation to a prominent global economic power". Gujarat's chief minister was invited to talk on Skype (since the US refuses him a visa). The "outraged" academics urged the organisers "to revoke their invitation". Modi's involvement in the Gujarat riots of 2002, they argued, was documented by the NGO Human Rights Watch, the US state department and — more importantly — by India's Supreme Court. By providing a podium, the university would "endorse ideas about economic development that are based on the systematic oppression of minority populations". Squeamish at a controversy, the organisers disinvited Modi.
The petition hurled accusations that readers of this page are familiar with. They have been subject to ferocious debate ever since that dark February of 2002. Since Modi has not been convicted by a court of law, we are left to rely on individual testimonies and NGO reports — some ideologically charged, many persuasive. I am personally persuaded, but that is no ground to disallow a man from speaking at a university. Modi is not a convicted criminal, even a charged one. Here's how one man saw it: "it is [not] appropriate to use allegations or anything less than a due process of law to make a subjective judgement to question a constitutional authority". That man was PM Manmohan Singh — no Modi fan — defending Modi in Parliament when the US denied him a visa in 2005.
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