It was incredibly fascinating to see the leaders of the world’s largest and most powerful democracies rub shoulders and do much backslapping, hand-pumping and mutual fawning in Washington this week.
It was even cornier and overly sugary affair than Modi’s much photographed ‘bromance’ with President Barack Obama.
This is not the first US visit by the Indian leader of course; it is his fourth (or is it fourth?) pilgrimage to the land of the free, which he has grown rather fond of over the years. Perhaps because the US had declared him a persona non grata and denied him visa for more than 10 years for his role in the 2002 pogrom that killed more than 2000 Muslims in Gujarat. The curbs were lifted only months ahead of what looked like his imminent ascent to the top job in the land.
This didn’t quite prevent his hitting it off with Trump’s predecessor from the word go though. It had clearly been love at first sight between the first African American president with a Muslim father and the man who has had a long history of troubled relationship with all things Muslim.
It seems the same kind of passion and fervor are going to dominate Modi’s tempestuous affair with the current incumbent. Indeed, it looks like it is going to be even more fervent, if scenes from the White House Rose Garden and positively glowing tributes paid to each other are anything to go by.
What is it that Modi and Trump find attractive in each other?
As I had noted in these columns ahead of Trump’s election last year, there are many things common between the two men who have an exaggerated sense of self-importance and see themselves as history’s gift to their nations. Indeed, their sense of history begins with their own ascent. Everything that preceded them must be wrong and must be corrected. The entire system must be fixed, even if by wrecking it.
Commenting on Modi’s latest visit, Mark Landler and Gardiner Harris write in the New York Times: “Mr Trump and Mr Modi have much in common including a history of anti-Muslim rhetoric, a nationalist focus on homegrown manufacturing, a fraught relationship with the news media, and electoral campaigns that benefited from the proliferation of fake news.”
If this US administration has sought to ban people from six Muslim nations from entering the US, the Modi government has been running an elaborate campaign against indigenous Muslims living in the Northeast for centuries, declaring them ‘illegal’ and ‘Bangladeshis’. And yes, following the drastic changes this government has introduced in the citizenship and immigration law, India now unconditionally welcomes Hindus living anywhere in the world as citizens, even if their ancestors migrated from India centuries ago. It is exactly the other way round in the case of Muslims in this open borders policy, even if they have lived and died in this land since time immemorial.
Indeed, this visceral loathing of all things Muslims is what seems to underpin this extraordinary ‘natural’ alliance between the forces on the Right in the US and India. As the leftist writer Vijay Prashad argues in Aljazeera, the two titan are united in their hatred of Muslims. The thunderous proclamations against “Islamic terrorism” and dire threats to Pakistan, ironically Washington’s faithful ally through thick and thin of the Cold war and post 9/11 years, therefore hardly come as a surprise. It is clearly a new world order and the ground has shifted from under Pakistan’s feet. In any case, under Trump the US has concluded that Pakistan has finally outlived its utility in the region.
The fact that Washington is nowhere near winning its ‘war on terror’ in Afghanistan 16 years and trillions of dollars later does not help. Pakistan has ostensibly failed to persuade the Taliban to lay down their arms and return to the negotiating table much to the frustration of the US and its allies. Incidentally, India and the US have also been on the same side in Afghanistan.
But this is an alliance that isn’t merely restricted to South Asia and the Af-Pak region. The US has been propping up India for quite some time to check China’s growing sphere of influence. Combined with Israel, this trinity of growing, converging interests is a global alliance that is clearly targeted against the Muslim world in the name of fighting ‘Islamic terrorism’.
Above all, this is an economic relationship. The US is the largest manufacturer and exporter of arms in the world; India has the singular distinction of being the largest buyer and importer of those arms. Besides, India is the most attractive, largest untapped market of a billion people over which US manufacturers and investors have been salivating for the past many years. Scarcely surprising then the successive US Presidents have been rolling out elaborate, grand receptions for Modi, wooing him despite his eventful past and in the face of what has been unfolding in India since he swept to power, promising ‘sab ka saath, sab ka vikas’ (Inclusion and progress for all).
The daily mob attacks and lynching of Muslims across the country, not sparing even women, elderly and children, have no precedence in the country’s history.
Yet the Prime Minister, who is perpetually busy on Twitter and regularly comments on tragedies in the remote corners of the world, has not even once condemned these daily killings and witch hunt of Muslims happening right under his nose. Nor has his government initiated any action against the guilty. Instead, in many cases the authorities have booked the victims in the name of cow protection! Indeed, animals enjoy far greater rights and protection than humans under this government.
International rights groups have repeatedly flayed the BJP government for these rising attacks on the minority community but to little effect. In a strongly worded statement this week, Amnesty International noted, “The pattern of hate crimes committed against Muslims with seeming impunity — many of them in states where the BJP is in power — is deeply worrying. Unfortunately both the Prime Minister and various Chief Ministers have done little to show that they disapprove of this violence.”
This deafening silence of those at the top — as has been the case in the lawless Myanmar next door — is precisely why these brazen attacks in full public view and in broad daylight have continued unabated.
In the face of all this, the excessive mollycoddling of Modi by world powers, especially Washington, and the rest of the world community is not just shameful, it only emboldens this regime. The country that prides itself on being the land of the free and the global champion of human rights and freedom has yet to break its silence on the issue. The blessed bloc of Islamic nations seems to live in a different world altogether.
The only noises made so far have been by international rights groups and the media. Thankfully, India’s civil society has also at last started speaking out against this silent slaughter of Muslims at the hands of Hindutva forces.
After the Muslims silently marked this Eid wearing black armbands, tens of thousands of Indians demonstrated across the country on June 28 in an unprecedented, unusual protest named ‘Not in My Name!’
These voices of sanity and reason must be heeded and supported by the international community and global powers who swear by civil liberties and rule of law. The world must speak out and act against Hindutva terror and fascism. For silence is complicity. Silence kills.
Aijaz Zaka Syed is an award winning journalist