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PM Modi, Human Rights & the U.S Opportunism

PM Modi, Human Rights & the U.S Opportunism

By Aprameya Rao

Edited by Nidhi Singh, Junior Editor, The Indian Economist

It has been a classic case of ‘opportunism’ by the United States of America, one that should truly find a mention in world history. After diplomatically boycotting Narendra Modi for 9 long years, over his alleged role in the Gujarat riots, the U.S will finally grant him a US visa, but not before he guided his party, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), to a comfortable majority in the recently concluded Lok Sabha elections. The US, after sensing the growing public anger against the ruling Congress led UPA and the rising clamour for Modi, began reaching out to Modi, with the then US envoy to India, Nancy Powell, becoming the first top US official to meet Modi in nearly a decade. Since taking over as PM, two major powers, China & the U.S, have dispatched their top diplomats to engage with India, with the US, in particular, sending its Indian origin Asst. Secretary for South & Central Asian Affairs Nisha Biswal, with the message that it is “excited to partner with Modi”. Such an unprecedented ‘change of heart’ was perhaps the only option left with Washington. With India having a pragmatic Prime Minister like Modi, it was just a matter of time for the US to roll back his boycott. The ‘Visa-gate’ is all but over now, after PM Modi accepted Obama’s invite, and would be setting his foot on U.S soil in September this year.

As the head of a government, Modi would be entitled to an A1 diplomatic visa, but the legacy of his ‘Visa-gate’, which erupted in March 2005, will be unique in many ways. Never had an elected head of a government been denied a visa by the U.S authorities for “severe violations of religious freedom”. The law under which he was denied a visa has also had its share of controversies. The International Religious Freedom Act, 1998 was enacted by the Congress to “promote religious freedom” as a part of U.S foreign policy. Back then, many lawmakers were concerned about the rising attacks on Christians in Sudan & China, while critics like the National Council of Churches even warned that the law might “promote the cause of Christians to the exclusion of persecuted believers of other religions”. ( lawmakers – wanting to prove the critics wrong – tried to give the law a ‘secular dimension’ but failed. Their opportunity finally came four years later, in the aftermath of the 2002 Gujarat Riots that killed more than a thousand people including Muslims. So it is right to believe that the then Chief Minister Modi gave them their opportunity to score a political point.

Ever since the deadly riots, the question whether Modi is guilty of criminal negligence is hotly debated. The leftists and the liberals never miss a chance to take a dig at him, invoking the U.S boycott regularly, but overlooking the fact that he had won three back to back elections, while his supporters, including many sycophants, have been claiming his innocence in the riots and feel that denying him a U.S visa is unfair.

But while the U.S’s Modi boycott always revolved around the rhetoric of human rights violation, its own record at protecting human rights – while pursuing its foreign policy objectives – has been dismal to say the least. The post-World War II history is replete with instances of U.S’s overt as well as covert backing of military coups, authoritarian leaders, some of whom later turned out to be its ‘Frankenstein’, and insurgent outfits across the world. Its direct military confrontation in Vietnam, Afghanistan & Iraq has only tarnished its image abroad.

The often cited instance has been that of the 1973 Chilean coup, which toppled the democratically elected government led by Marxist Salvadore Allende. Immediately after being deposed, he allegedly committed suicide. Back then it was the US which instantly recognised the new junta government and helped it consolidate its power. Over the next 17 years, more than 35,000 Chileans suffered various tortures (, yet the US remained indifferent towards them. In what would ring a bell for many, Allende’s death anniversary clashes with another tragedy, the World Trade Centre attack. The co-incidence just doesn’t end there. Its mastermind, the slain Osama Bin Laden, was a former guerrilla, who was created by the CIA to fight the Soviet Army in Afghanistan. But later what happened to the ‘U.S’s most wanted terrorist’, is far too well known to everyone. What an irony! Once America’s pet Mujahedeen, later its biggest enemy.

Latin America has had the misfortune of featuring in America’s policy of propping up dictatorships. From its neighbouring Mexico (PRI party) to Cuba (Batista) and Nicaragua (Somoza family) to Brazil (military junta), dictatorial regimes committed large-scale human rights violations, suppressed free speech and pillaged public money but their American political masters turned a blind eye. Since long, the United States has been a major player in the Middle-Eastern region, backing the absolute monarchies of Bahrain & Saudi Arabia. Both countries have had poor human rights records – Shias persecuted and political dissent crushed. But the U.S seems to be in no mood to impose any sanctions. Saddam Hussain, the Iraqi tyrant responsible for the killings of majority Shias, was the darling of the U.S during Iraq’s war against Iran – which was staunchly anti-America. But when it had enough of its ‘Frankenstein’, Iraq became the casualty.

In next door Pakistan, erstwhile dictator Gen. Zia-ul-Haq, U.S’s chief collaborator in its covert war against the Soviets, aggressively pushed for Islamisation, persecuting minority groups including Ahmadiyyas & enforcing draconian Sharia laws; while the U.S exploited Pakistan as an ‘instrument’ of its foreign policy and completely overlooked serious human rights violations.

These instances amongst the many others, clearly point out a dichotomy – Having a vibrant democracy at home while supporting right-wing dictatorships abroad, as and when it required. It was the Cold War that forced the U.S to have a foreign policy that could not only curb the erstwhile USSR’s influence but also secure for itself key strategic regions of the world. For the U.S, it was convenient enough to ally with right-wing authoritarian regimes, which abhorred communism and facilitated its geo-strategic and economic interests. Purportedly as quid pro quo, Uncle Sam largely ignored the grave crimes committed by its allies. Alas! Principles like democracy, liberty and human rights were largely forgotten. Thus ‘opportunism’ and ‘hypocrisy’ were the bywords to describe its foreign policy, which it follows even after the end of the Cold War.

The U-turn by Washington on P.M Modi is reminiscent of its Cold War era ‘hypocrisy’. In December last year, Modi was given a clean chit by the SC in the 2002 riots case, but the response from U.S remained unchanged. It took Modi to become the PM for the U.S to roll back its boycott. Had the U.S reversed its stance well before the elections, its intentions would not have come under the scanner, which is not the case now. The decision by the state dept. has only strengthened a belief among many that U.S had been playing to the gallery for the last 9 years. But it is also understandable on Washington’s part to grant visa, since it would have been absurd to block the elected leader of a regional power like India, which is a key strategic partner for the U.S.

India & the US have a lot of common ground where they need to work together – security, counter- terrorism and economy. U.S has been having a dynamic foreign policy but it should remember – Only a thin line separates dynamism from opportunism.

Aprameya is a final year student of KC College, Mumbai University, and is pursuing a degree in Economics. He has also completed an Advance Diploma in TV Journalism from KC College of Management Studies, Mumbai. He has previously interned with reputed media organisations like Press Trust of India & ZEE NEWS. A keen observer of Indian politics and international affairs, he aspires to be a political journalist. In his pastime he loves watching movies, especially Hollywood classics.

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