The chorus continues to grow against the much-awaited and high-profile visit of Indian prime minister Narendra Modi to Vancouver on April 16. About two dozen groups have come together to form a broad coalition under the banner Communities United Against Narendra Modi.
Close scrutiny of the list of the organizations suggests that it has grown into a cross-sectional movement representing members of minority communities—such as Sikhs, Muslims, Christians, and so-called Dalits or untouchables—as well as leftists and LGBT people. And if the mood at the annual Vaisakhi parade in Vancouver on April 11 is any indication, the campaign is expected to grow as the day of his visit draws near.
Members of the East Indian Defence Committee, Indian Rationalist Society, Ghadar Party Centenary Celebrations Committee, International League of People’s Struggles, and Sikh Nation were seen walking in the parade, circulating leaflets, and making announcements about their plans to protest against Modi. They're all connected with the initiative against Modi's visit.
The opposition of Ghadar Party Centenary Celebrations Committee is particularly significant. The Ghadar Party was a group of radical freedom fighters formed in North America in 1913. It fought both against British occupation of India and racism abroad and wanted to establish a secular and democratic republic in an independent India.
Ironically, the Ross Street Sikh temple where Modi will be visiting is run by an organization established by the Ghadar Party supporters. The Vancouver Vaisakhi parade is organized by the Ross Street Sikh temple every year. As its officials are getting ready to accord a warm welcome to Modi, Communities United Against Narendra Modi is likely to organize a rally somewhere near the temple that day.
Modi is the head of the Hindu nationalist Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) government in India and has a big following in the Indian diaspora. He rode to power with a brute majority in the general election last year. His supporters see him as a “charismatic leader” with “great oratory skills” and a “humble background”.
Whereas his upcoming visit has generated lot of excitement in Canada, not everybody is impressed. Communities United Against Narendra Modi looks upon him as a “fascist leader” of a party that was not only responsible for the anti-Muslim pogrom of 2002, but has also been involved in systemic violence against other religious minorities.
Modi was chief minister of the northwestern Indian state of Gujarat, which witnessed a well-organized anti-Muslim massacre in 2002. The mass murders of the Muslims followed the burning of a train, which killed more than 50 Hindu pilgrims. The Modi government had blamed Islamic extremists for torching the train.
Human-rights groups and the victims’ families continue to allege Modi’s complicity in the violence, although he has not been charged, let alone convicted, of any offence in connection with the massacre. The U.S.-based advocacy group Sikhs For Justice launched a complaint against him with the Canadian government over his alleged involvement in the bloodshed. Its supporters are part of Communities United Against Narendra Modi.
Sikhs for Justice had earlier filed similar complaints against visiting leaders of other Indian political parties, including the Congress, for its involvement in a similar pogrom against the Sikh community way back in 1984. Thousands of Sikhs were murdered following the assassination of the then prime minister, Indira Gandhi, by her Sikh bodyguards. Congress leaders were seen leading mobs that targeted the Sikhs; Gandhi’s son Rajiv, who later became prime minister, justified the mass murders by describing them as a reaction to the assassination.
Sikhs have some other grouses with Modi. His government has been held responsible for intimidating Sikh settlers in Gujarat, forcing some to flee lands allotted to them decades ago. Modi’s party also supported the June 1984 Indian military attack on the Golden Temple Complex, the holiest shrine of the Sikhs, in Amritsar. Indira Gandhi ordered the operation to flush out religious extremists who had fortified the place of worship.
This is what turned her bodyguards into killers. BJP allies have also often retaliated against ordinary Sikhs inside and outside Punjab whenever Sikh extremists targeted Hindus.
Also, the BJP is the political arm of the ultra nationalist Hindu body, Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS), which dreams to transform India into a Hindu theocracy. The RSS considers Sikhism as part of the Hindu mainstream and treats Islam and Christianity as foreign religions. It is for this reason that a section of the Sikh community fears assimilation under the BJP government.
The RSS and BJP have also been attacking Christian missionaries in India and believe in the caste system, which denounces Dalits or the so called oppressed caste people as "untouchables".
Since the right-wing BJP is also against amending Indian laws to ensure equality for the LGBT community, fear among gays and lesbians in India is also understandable.
Leftists and secularists have obviously been opposed to the BJP's right-wing and theocratic agenda from the very beginning.
This explains why all these communities have found common ground to oppose Modi’s visit to Vancouver and other parts of Canada.