The Five Testifiers
When Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced plans to visit Silicon Valley later this month, a petition of sorts was floated by a bunch of US-based academics urging Silicon Valley entrepreneurs to boycott the Prime Minister’s upcoming visit. However, the expected commotion for the so-called petition failed to materialize as the agenda of the ones associated with it has long been unmasked: their carefully cultivated halo as the only voices authorized to speak for India has long since disappeared.
This careful cultivation in the past took several shapes and forms and was carried out for several decades in various theatres within India as well as globally. What is also notable is the fact that an overwhelming majority of these voices mostly hail from India working sometimes toward agendas of their own or controlled and financed by foreign nations who want to embroil India in a state of perpetual disturbance.
And the most significant of such agenda-driven acts concerns their testimony against the current Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi in connection with the 2002 Gujarat riots, which were triggered when a Muslim mob burned alive fifty-nine Hindu pilgrims inside a train coach on 27 February 2002.
What is interesting, as well as deplorable is the fact that some members, Indian citizens, of this tribe of petitioners flew down to the US and provided said testimony at the farcical hearing carried out by the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) on 10 June 2002 regarding the 2002 Gujarat violence.
It should be remembered that this hearing was carried out after one of the USCIRF’s members, Felice D. Gaer was denied permission to enter India because the USCIRF had no standing over a sensitive issue which was purely internal to India.
But that did not stop the proceedings which relied on non-state actors (Indians with vested interests) to determine the “guilt” of the then Gujarat CM Narendra Modi, a “guilt” that was pre-decided. And so, based on such selective testimonies from carefully selected testifiers, the “hearing” held Mr. Modi guilty of complicity in the riots even before the Indian Government began investigations into the Gujarat riots.
This hearing was highly influential in distorting Modi’s image globally and led to Modi’s eventual visa denial by the United States in 2005. The so-called hearing was also a catalyst for starting the decade-long Gujarat riot narrative which painted Narendra Modi as some sort of a deadly monster.
Although it is a thing of the past and the world has generally moved on ever since, it is important to recall history from time to time lest those who forget history are condemned to repeat it. Here is a list of The Testifiers, some of who flew to the US from India and others who were US residents of Indian origin, along with a brief summary of their respective testimonies. This list is derived from the full text of the aforementioned USCIRF testimony.
A. Najid Hussain- A research scientist in marine studies at the University of Delaware. Appeared as a witness. One of the victims of the Gujarat violence was his father-in-law, former Member of Parliament, Ahsan Jafri.
i. Mr. Hussain compared the Gujarat violence with the Holocaust, or Rwandan or Bosnian genocide.
ii. Without providing reliable sources or evidence, he claimed that the Gujarat state’s police forces helped the perpetrators of violence.
iii. Mr. Hussain stated that the carnage in Gujarat was pre-planned by the Sangh Parivar. In his words:
Godhra was just an excuse. Had it not been Godhra it could have been something else, anything else, actually. These extremists are also known to produce their own sparks when there are no other sparks.
This unproven claim of the Sangh Parivar being a diabolical outfit is part of the media’s false portrayal of Hindu Nationalist organizations as a cabal of neo-Fascists plotting violence in the nation.
iv. Without providing any evidence, Mr. Hussain labels overseas Hindu welfare organisations like Hindu Swayamsevak Sangh as terrorists. He accused these organisations of funding rioters in India.
During his testimony, Mr. Hussain dismisses a report published in TIME magazine which stated that Ehsan Jafri fired shots at agitators from his pistol instigating violence whereas most of his assertions are based on unproven allegations. When asked about the scarcity of witnesses regarding his assertions Mr. Hussain blamed the VHP, Bajrang Dal and RSS of intimidating them, thus painting the governments of Gujarat and India look like some despotic entities.
B. Kamal Mitra Chenoy- Former Professor of political theory and international relations at the Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), Delhi, and former central committee member of the Communist Party of India (CPI). Mr. Chenoy is now a prominent member of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP).
i. Mr. Chenoy narrated the controversial unverified story that the 2002 Godhra train burning was retribution against the passengers molesting a young Muslim girl who worked as a tea vendor. In his words:
Now, about this whole area of retaliatory violence, the incidents in Godhra that is with the Sabarmati Express followed a series of incidents on that train where the Hindu volunteers mistreated and humiliated Muslim men and women traveling by that train towards Ayodhya in Uttar Pradesh, or coming back towards Ahmedabad. And these instances were reported in the press. In early morning of the 27th February, the train was almost five hours late, and at the railway station an altercation took place over the non-payment by the Hindu volunteers for the tea and snacks they had had. And then there was an attempt to abduct a young teenaged Muslim girl, Sophia, who was waiting for another train. They were not able to take her into the train, but the rumor of a Muslim girl being abducted reached the slums next to the railway station, and the attack that started barely a kilometer away from the railway station when the train stopped with the pulling of the alarm chain was based on these rumors and attention at the railway station.
Mr. Chenoy claimed that the Government of India accused Pakistani intelligence as the force behind fuelling violent attacks in the country, and that that was equivalent of accusing the Muslims of being the enemy. It is strange that secularists like Mr. Chenoy jump to such brazen conclusions and then accuse Hindu nationalists of painting a false image of Muslims.
ii. And then, in a brilliant sleight of hand, Mr. Chenoy makes the claim that ‘The incident of Gujarat has been seen to show that India is not really a secular state, and Muslims and minorities are oppressed, which will further fuel extremism in Kashmir.’ The cleansing of the Kashmiri Pandit populace at the hands of Islamic extremists which took place more than a decade before the Gujarat carnage is not deemed as ‘ethnic cleansing’ by people of Mr. Chenoy’s ilk.
iii. In his answer to the question regarding the return of victimised Muslims to their homes, Mr. Chenoy replied:
Well, I think in the first place, they don’t trust the state government, and they would really want the state government, which has violated the Constitution, to be dismissed. And they would want some kind of what we have called “president’s rule,” that is, rule to govern from the federal government. And they would want a much greater role for the Army in providing security, because the police have been extremely partisan.
The emboldened portion of Mr. Chenoy’s statement is not an accurate assessment of the Muslim community’s view of the Indian Government.
C. Father Cedric Prakash- Cedric Prakash is a Jesuit Priest based in Ahmedabad, the capital of Gujarat. He had worked full time with the AICUF (All India Catholic University Federation) in Chennai and was associated with the US-based think tank, Ethics and Public Policy Center (EPPC), which has a long history of promoting and influencing anti-India sentiments with several successive US Governments.
Cedric Prakash is currently the Director of PRASHANT, the Ahmedabad-based Jesuit Centre for Human Rights, Justice and Peace which he founded on 2 October, 2001. An important point here is the fact that Father Prakash was invited as a guest speaker.
i. Father Prakash admitted in presence of the USCIRF panel that he and his associates have published pamphlets that asked Christians all over Gujarat to be prepared for attacks. He pointed out the Hindu-Christian clashes in Gujarat as the reason for spreading communal fear. A brief background and modus operandi of how such clashes, which are often instigated by the Evangelists, can be found here.
ii. The following statement made by Father Prakash is a clear case of an Indian citizen asking a foreign nation to interfere in India’s domestic affairs in any manner:
I think unless there is intervention, as our honorable attorney general has already mentioned, that is no internal affairs but since human rights and religious freedom should be the concern of the global community, unless there is very positive and powerful intervention from all over the world, what has taken place and what is taking place in Gujarat these last three months is not going to stop.
Cedric Prakash, like Hussain and Chenoy, paints a picture which displays Gujarat as a lawless land where hapless Muslim residents are under attack by predatory Hindu fanatics. However, Father Prakash goes one step further by asking foreign nations to intervene in India disregarding the fact that debates regarding the carnage in Gujarat was being carried out in socio-political circles like it should be in a sovereign democratic nation.
D. Sumit Ganguly- Professor of Asian Studies at the Texas University.
i. Mr. Ganguly implies that India is an illiberal democracy where the rights of the majority are prioritised and the rights of minorities are ignored.
ii. He asked for strong public condemnation of India by the United States and even appeals to the US to pressurise India in ensuring justice.
iii. Mr. Ganguly suggests that USCRIF assist NGOs based in India which he believes are working for social welfare.
E. Teesta Setalvad-Indian civil rights activist and journalist. She is the secretary of Citizens for Justice and Peace (CJP). Ms. Setalvad has made a name for herself being the sole propagandist against Narendra Modi for a decade over the Gujarat riots. She subsequently became infamous as the poster girl of what came to be known as the Gujarat Riots Cottage Industry, and now faces several court cases for perjury, financial misappropriation and tutoring witnesses for giving false testimony. Like Cedric Prakash she was also invited as a guest speaker.
This one long statement of hers shows her in her true light.
…I would like to state very, very clearly that I believe that–and we believe, and we’ve said so–that the Ahsan Jafri killing, particularly, was that of personal vendetta by none less than the Chief Minister of Gujarat, Mr. Narendra Modi….I’d like here to point out to the Commission that there are no less than 2,000 dead. It’s not 1,000 dead. There are no less than 2,000 persons dead……
We can compare Teesta’s and the other panelists’ “testimony” with some of the notable findings of the Special Investigation Team appointed by the Supreme Court of India:
i. Immediately after the Godhra carnage, on the evening of 27 February 2002, the then Gujarat Chief Minister took steps to arrange the Rapid Action Force (RAF), State Reserve Police, local police at sensitive points. Due to the army at Ahmedabad Cantonment being called at the border the Chief Minister requested the then Defence Minister next day to immediately deploy army battalions to tackle the situation, which were deployed immediately.
ii. The statistical findings show that in the first six days of the riots, 61 Hindus and 40 Muslims were killed in police firing with 60% casualties being Hindu.
iii.Regarding the BJP accusing ISI of instigating violence in Gujarat, one of the principal accused in the Godhra carnage is now a fugitive in Pakistan, with an Interpol Red Corner Notice.
iv. According to an official report presented in the Rajya Sabha a total of 254 Hindus and 790 Muslims were killed in the Gujarat riots.