Radical Desi warns readers about Narendra Modi as India chooses its prime minister
As the national elections in India reach a boiling point, a progressive Lower Mainland magazine has taken direct aim at Narendra Modi, leader of the right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
Modi, who could emerge as prime minister, was chief minister in the western state of Gujarat during a 2002 pogrom against Muslims.
In a lengthy cover story, Radical Desi cites eyewitness accounts of how right-wing Hindu extremists with the Vishwa Hindu Parishad "were given a free hand to murder innocent Muslims". Police in Gujarat reportedly stood by as killers went on a rampage.
BJP leaders were allegedly seen "leading the mobs". There were 975 deaths, according to government statistics.
More recently, Radical Desi reports, "Sikh migrant farmers from Punjab in Gujarat were physically attacked for not vacating the land they were allotted years ago by the state government."
The magazine quotes a critic of Modi, queer feminist reseacher Ponni Arasu of the University of Toronto, who says these attacks shouldn't surprise anyone because the BJP "subscribes to the philosophy of Hindutva, or Hindu nationalism".
Chinmoy Banerjee of the Lower Mainland–based South Asian Network for Secularism and Democracy is also quoted as supporting an initiative by Arasu to create a mausoleum for victims of the Gujarat massacres. Banerjee called Modi a "hate monger", claiming "he will be terrible for minorities".
According to Radical Desi, Modi is a member of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, a right-wing Hindu nationalist paramilitary organization.
A former RSS member, Nathuram Godse, murdered Mahatma Gandhi in 1948; RSS leaders were later acquitted on conspiracy charges.
The rival Congress party, which controls the government in New Delhi, has claimed to be more secular in its orientation than the BJP. However, one of its critics, writer Arundhati Roy, has accused Congress of practising a similar form of "vote-bank politics" in the past.
In recent years, Modi has tried to refashion his image. Now, he presents himself as a politician who welcomes corporate investment.
In the new issue of Time magazine, Mumbai-born CNN commentator Fareed Zakaria writes that Modi "has a reputation for quick action, encouraging the private sector, and good governance".
"He also has a reputation for autocratic rule and a dark Hindu-nationalist streak," Zakaria adds. "But those concerns are waning in a country desperate for change."
The U.S. government under George W. Bush refused to issue Modi a visitor's visa in 2005 in response to the attacks in Gujurat three years earlier.
If Modi becomes prime minister of India this month, pressure will rise on the Obama administration to reverse that decision and grant Modi a visa.
In the meantime, expect the debates over Modi's role in the riots to continue for quite some time in the local community of Indian descent.
Radical Desi notes in its cover story that a group called Overseas Friends of the BJP held an event in Vancouver to express support for Modi.
"Interestingly, a few prominent supporters of the ruling Conservative Party of Canada were also in attendance," the magazine reports. "It is pertinent to mention that the Conservatives represent right-wing politics in Canada much like the BJP in India."
The progressive South Asian left in Greater Vancouver continues raising deep concerns about the consequences of a BJP victory in this month's elections.
Stay tuned. We likely haven't heard the end of this story.
Diaspora politics remain alive and well in the Lower Mainland.