The ardent overtures to Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi by Europe, the UK and the US tell us more about these states betraying their own constitutional values than about Modi’s appeal abroad. Even the BJP has prudently desisted from crowing about the party’s “growing international appeal” as some admirers of Modi are prone to doing in private.
The impression gained from conversations with some retired and a few serving officials in the ministry of external affairs (MEA) is that Europe and the UK have not earned any diplomatic brownie points for making a beeline to Modi, under whose watch Gujarat witnessed the massacre of nearly 1,500 Muslims in 2002. Not long before the carnage, these very western governments were fuming over churches being torched and attacked and Christians being targeted in Modi’s Gujarat. The US, in contrast, has played its cards more shrewdly.
Long before the much-publicised British high commissioner’s visit, in October 2012, re-opened the communication channel to Modi, the Danish ambassador was already talking to him. As one diplomatic observer pointed out, “Denmark probably did it out of pique or spite – because the Government of India had consigned the Danish embassy to the diplomatic doghouse”. The Danish government – because the ambassador was unlikely to act on his own in this matter – wanted to show the UPA government its displeasure at being isolated.
The reasons for Denmark being isolated include its executive’s refusal to appeal a judicial order against the extradition of Kim Davey, who is wanted in the Purulia arms drop case. The cartoons of the Prophet (which Indians and New Delhi found objectionable) and Danish state broadcasters telecasting films shot in violation of visa conditions were just two of the many issues that had soured relations.
Worse than the transgressions was the Danish government’s defence of these offending acts. So, it came as a surprise when the Danish government — which cited India’s atrocious human rights record and abominable prison system to justify its refusal to extradite the terrorist Kim Davey — went out of the way to court Modi. That Modi was chief minister during the massacre of 1,500 Muslims, and for this reason barred from getting a visa or travelling to Europe, the UK and the US, seemed to hardly matter as an issue of diplomatic concern.
It is possible that the Danes were used to test the waters before biggies, such as the UK and Germany, took the plunge. Not long after the UK foreign office asked its high commissioner in India to build bridges to Modi, envoys from EU countries queued up to meet the man who is projected by influential sections as a potential prime minister.
The West, which never misses an opportunity to berate or slam India for human rights violations and is forever preaching about democracy, religious freedom, rule of law and respect for judiciary, seems to have admitted that these are at best nonsense; and, at worst, instrumental in negotiating better terms of trade.
The EU ambassadors rationalised their cosying up to Modi by arguing that he had not been “judicially arraigned yet” for the massacres in Gujarat; and that making up with Modi was proof of their respect to India’s democratic institutions, electoral system and judiciary. The countries which barred his entry are now falling over each other to invite him to Europe; and, he is to be feted by not only European business but also the European Parliament.
As for the US, its ingenuity will be severely tested when it comes to inviting Modi for a visit because its law bars foreign government officials who have “committed particularly severe violations of religious freedom”. However, this would be a minor hurdle when Washington chooses to roll out the red carpet for Modi.
What emerges from these developments is that the West, for all its protestations about human rights and democracy, couldn’t care less about either M – Modi or the Minorities. The only M that spurs the West is Money. It is the cynical pursuit of financial profit – investment opportunities and defence contracts — that guides western governments when it comes to the “lesser people” and “lesser nations”.
One of the most jarring developments in the aftermath of the 2002 riots was that, contrary to general expectation, a delegation led by the US Commerce Secretary did not put off its visit to Gujarat. It was business as usual for Washington.
Whether Modi becomes prime minister or not, there is no doubt that the West has earned his contempt, rightfully.
The author is an independent political and foreign affairs commentator