As Canada gears up to receive the Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, general silence prevails in the South Asian media over Hindutva extremism. Its supporters have become emboldened in India under his government.
The prime minister's critics feel that there is hardly any debate on this ticklish issue, which reflects how Modi government is "gagging" the media through Indian officials and slighting the voices of dissent. Modi will be in Canada from April 14-16, including a stopover in Vancouver. This will be his first visit to the country as prime minister of the world's largest democracy.
Modi represents the right-wing Hindu nationalist Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP), which enjoys a large majority in the Indian parliament. Since the alleviation of Modi as prime minister last year, the demand for removing secularism from the preamble of Indian constitution has grown.
There have been spate of attacks on Christians and Muslims, too. More than a decade ago, Modi was the chief minister of in the Indian state of Gujarat that witnessed an anti-Muslim pogrom in 2002. As a result of this, he was denied a U.S. vistors' visa for several years.
With Modi's official visit to Canada around the corner, a U.S.-based group called Sikhs For Justice is getting ready to hold protest rallies with the support of other minority communities. It is pertinent to mention that the Sikh settlers in Gujarat have also been harassed under the BJP government.
It is a separate matter that the BJP shares power with the Akali Dal, a mainstream Sikh political party of Punjab that treats the BJP as a better alternative to the Congress party, which was involved in anti-Sikh carnage in 1984 after the assassination of the then-prime minister Indira Gandhi by her Sikh bodyguards.
Ironically, the BJP and the Congress were virtually on the same page back then on the question of dealing with Sikh extremism. The prime minister was murdered in response to her decision to send the Indian Army into Sikhism's holiest shrine, the Golden Temple in Amritsar, to confront armed extremists who were inside the complex.
Interestingly, the Akali Dal continues to glorify Sikh militants while at the same time sharing power with the BJP in Punjab and shielding police officers involved in disappearances and murders of Sikh political activists.
Sikhs For Justice. which supports Sikh sovereignty, has been highlighting the opportunism and atrocities of all the political parties, including the Akali Dal. The U.S. group has been instrumental behind demonstrations against visiting Indian politicians in the past.
This time, Gurpatwant Singh Pannun, a legal advisor to the group, complains that he organization is not being given space in the media. In a statement he declared, "Hardly two weeks left before Modi will land in Canada on his first trip to the country after many years and a decade-long visa ban, not a single word from any community or human-rights activist is being published in the Indo-Canadian media concerning role of PM Modi in anti-Muslim violence of 2002 in Gujarat under his Chief Ministership."
Pannun attributes this silence to a "threat of denying visa to India", which according to him is a "primary weapon used by Indian envoys in Canada to goad community journalists to remain silent about nefarious actions of attacking religious minorities". (His allegation has not been proven in any court of law.)
He has filed complaints against Indian officials to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Barring a few media outlets, a majority of the media organizations are mainly promoting the positive side of Modi's visit while ignoring alternative voices.
One may disagree with the politics of Sikhs For Justice, but any kind of official or undeclared censorship is unacceptable and reflects very badly on Indian democracy. Both Modi supporters and his opponents have a right to be heard.
The latest statement by Sikhs For Justice reinforces what I had reported last year after quitting Radio India. That is the growing interference of pro-Modi lobby in our communities. My previous employers wanted to slight Pannun when he was voicing similar concerns close to Modi's visit to U.S. in September 2014.
Personally, I oppose the political agenda of Pannun's organization, but as a journalist nothing can stop me from listening to all sides of the story. And that's one reason behind my decision to leave a job instead of compromising with my professional integrity.