Gurpreet Singh: Stephen Harper celebrates the victory of his right-wing cousin, Narendra Modi
There is nothing surprising about the excitement shown by the Prime Minister Stephen Harper over the victory of Narendra Modi in the Indian election.
A statement issued by the Prime Minister’s Office congratulating Modi on May 16 read, “I look forward to working with Prime Minister-elect Modi and the new government of India to further strengthen our social and economic partnership to the benefit of our citizens.’’
In his statement, Harper goes on to commend more than 550 million Indian citizens who “peacefully exercised their right to vote”.
Though it's a normal practice of congratulating a democratically elected leader of a country by another democratically elected prime minister, in this case the PMO's statement raises many valid questions.
Firstly, both Harper and Modi share many things in common. The foremost commonality that binds them together is that both are right-wing conservatives.
Harper’s Conservatives and Modi’s Hindu nationalist Bhartiya Janata Party have right-wing agendas and both parties represent the corporate interests.
Secondly, the Conservative Party of Canada and the BJP think alike on issues, like war and terrorism. Both parties support increasing the defence budget and militarization, as well as tougher laws to deal with crime and terrorism.
Many Conservatives and the BJP emphasize social conservatism, opposing rights for same-sex couples. It should not surprise anyone that both promote faith-based politics, reaching political recruits through churches and temples.
Identity politics is also one of the core values of these two parties. Stung by Islamophobia, the two parties have never been popular with Muslims in Canada and India.
Whereas the Harper government has been talking tough against Islamist extremism and Palestine, Modi is accused of allowing an anti-Muslim pogrom in the Indian state of Gujarat back in 2002. While chief minister of Gujarat, he allegedly gave free hand to the Hindu mobs to target Muslims following the burning of a train killing 59 Hindu passengers. The incident was blamed on Muslim fundamentalists.
Whereas the Conservatives have toughened anti-immigration laws, the BJP has been talking tough against Bangladeshi Muslim migrants settled in India.
In that sense the congratulatory note of Harper is not just a formality or a gesture of goodwill. It’s more than that. Harper finds in Modi a strong ideological ally in the South Asian region.
Notably, his statement is silent about Gujarat violence, which was the reason for the U.S. not to give visa to Modi in the past. It's just not possible that Harper is not aware of this issue. After all, the statement mentions values, such as human rights and the law: “The unprecedented scale of these elections emphasizes both the vitality and strength of India’s democracy. Canada is proud to share with India the values of freedom, democracy, human rights and the rule of law.”
So how can one believe that Harper or his spin doctors just missed it? Harper has ignored the matter purposely.
If Harper really cares for democracy, human rights, and the rule of law, he could have asked Modi to assure full justice to the victims of Gujarat violence and punishment to the mass murderers as a precondition to strengthen good relations with India. But his approach is selective and flawed.
Otherwise, why he did not accept the electoral victory of Hamas in the Palestinian assembly election of 2006? The Harper government had categorically refused to acknowledge the democratically elected government of Hamas just because Israelis treat Hamas as a terrorist group.
One may disagree with Hamas for promoting violence but doesn’t that mean that Modi and the BJP also owe some answers to the world for promoting religious hatred? If Harper is impressed by more than 550 million citizens of India for exercising their right to vote, how can he be disrespectful to those who exercised a similar right in Palestine?
This only reflects the doublespeak of the Harper government. But what can one expect from a government which claims to be human-rights leader internationally, but is indifferent toward its commitment to human rights at home?
The Harper government continues to run away from its responsibility to order a national inquiry into the missing and murdered aboriginal women in Canada, but when it came to the abduction of over 200 school girls in Nigeria by the Islamic extremists, it readily offered all its support to the international campaign seeking their release.