By Madhu Purnima Kishwar
Even if Narendra Modi doesn’t do any other good as prime minister of India, he has made one historic contribution to politics: he has exposed the hollowness, hypocrisy and sheer venality of what masquerades as secularism and human rights activism with regard to India.
Recently a moral advisory has been issued by a group of US academics to Silicon Valley professionals that they should boycott India as an investment destination because its current prime minister is allegedly a tainted man and is “almost certainly” going to misuse information technology for spying on its citizens (see full text of original letter here).
To quote the advisory in its own words, “As it stands, ‘Digital India’ seems to ignore key questions raised in India by critics concerned about the collection of personal information and the near certainty that such digital systems will be used to enhance surveillance and repress the constitutionally protected rights of the citizens.”
In a democracy everyone has a right to criticise, oppose and even hate politicians whose actions are out of sync with their expectations. Modi certainly deserves criticism on several counts. I myself have critiqued various acts of commission and omission of the Modi government. These academics are also welcome to critique or even display open hostility to Modi provided they don’t distort facts and masquerade their hatred of the man as defence of “academic freedom” and “civil liberties.”
Several signatories to this ridiculous appeal are my friends. Some of them have hosted my lectures in the US and offered me warm hospitality. Some of them have even contributed insightful articles to Manushi, the journal I edited. Knowing them well, I can only say that they seem to have signed this absurd appeal under peer pressure, without applying critical thought that is expected of academics in premier universities. To my old friends in this group, I can only appeal that they should do a reality check before they undertake political interventions where they end up being used by vested interests with devious agendas. The rest of my rejoinder is addressed to those who have made a religion out of nursing mortal enmity towards Modi and BJP at the behest of vested interests.
It is noteworthy that there is not a single scientist, engineer, lawyer or IT professional in this list of signatories. This campaign, and several other anti-Modi ones, have almost always come from the domain of feminist studies and the departments of South Asian studies which have been systematically nurtured by the US establishment to breed anti-India propaganda under the guise of upholding human rights and social justice. It is in the domain of science and technology that Indians have excelled and emerged winners in open competition with their American colleagues. Their relationship with India is far more constructive than that of academics employed in the ghettos of South Asian studies.
The Emperor has no clothes: It is hard to believe that this learned faculty does not know that they their own “Emperor has no clothes”. Residing in the US and bankrolled by its agencies or institutions, these "neo-Anglo-Saxons" choose to forget that the US and Britain have been running the equivalent of a worldwide police state for the past several decades, where almost any phone call or communication could be tapped by their intelligence agencies.
As pointed out by Prof K Gopinath of the Indian Institute of Science in Bangalore, “the Silicon Valley honchos they appeal to have pioneered countless technologies that are routinely used for offensive and defensive intelligence operations. They petition technologists and businessmen in Silicon Valley to be wary of privacy violations (only in India?) when, for many of them, it is part of their daily bread and butter! As one of their tribe announced in 1999 (Scott McNealy, former CEO of Sun Microsystems), “You have zero privacy anyway. Get over it.”
“Note that this quote applies to US citizens; it goes without saying that non-US citizens are completely at the mercy of US/British agencies without any recourse! Microsoft, AT&T, Yahoo, Google and other companies have routinely assisted (under duress/subpeona sometimes) “US national security operations”. Many Silicon Valley companies have actively sought out customers among well-known autocratic regimes. A well-known video-calling product, Skype, though certified by a leading cryptographer as being secure, was revealed to have a backdoor that provided the Chinese authorities access to every conversation in real time with almost no effort. If they had dared meddle with American investors going to China or even Pakistan or Saudi Arabia, they would have been asked to go see a shrink and certainly ruled out of tenured jobs!
“Have these worthies already forgotten the National Security Agency (NSA) classified information leaked in 2013 by Edward Snowden, a former CIA employee and government contractor? These leaks revealed numerous global surveillance programmes, many run by the NSA and the Five Eyes with the cooperation of telecommunication companies and European governments. Any unbiased observer can see how persistently (across six decades or more) the US, Britain and Europe have been taking the rest of the world for a privacy/security ride with the active collaboration of Silicon Valley.”
Though their pious appeal is bound to be laughed at by Silicon Valley, it can't be ignored because it seems to have been inspired by vested interests who wish to keep India mired in poverty, promote strife among its people, and keep it vulnerable to terror attacks.
Witch-hunting under the guise of piety: This coterie of Modi baiters reminds Silicon Valley entrepreneurs of their moral “responsibilities and obligations” but seems to be oblivious to their own “responsibilities and obligations” as academics, where they are expected to rely on facts rather than manufacture demonology around a leader whose popularity they cannot stomach. So blinded are they by their malevolent prejudice that they can't tell the difference between hating Modi and hurting India. By calling upon the global community to go for an economic boycott of India and declare it an apartheid state simply because of their hatred of one man, they have more likely been acting as pawns - some of them knowingly and others unwittingly - in the hands of forces inimical to India. The investments that come to India are by no means going to Modi’s pocket.
This is not the first time American academics have crossed the Lakshman Rekha that divides honest, well-meaning criticism from witch-hunting for ideological reasons. They, along with their collaborators in Indian academia, had launched a similar campaign in 2005 addressed to the US government demanding that Modi be denied a US visabecause they, not the Indian courts, consider him guilty of “masterminding” the massacre of Muslims in Gujarat in 2002. The fact that they launched this campaign three years after the riots and only after the Sonia Gandhi-headed Congress came to power indicates whose game they were playing, and whose interests they were serving.
Since the appeal had the backing of well-entrenched hardcore evangelical groups in the US who hate the BJP for opposing conversion drives in India, the US government readily obliged and announced a ban on Modi’s entry from 2005 and till he became prime minister in 2014. They wouldn’t even let him address a video-conference when invited by American universities or NRIs. It is noteworthy that not a single FIR had been registered against Modi at that time (or even till date), and no police station or court had registered any case against him. And yet the US academics began a McCarthy type witch-hunt against a popularly elected chief minister for the simple reason that vested interests in the US and India had failed to defeat Modi politically. They, therefore, began using patently lawless means to dislodge him from power.
It is becoming increasingly clear that the US establishment is uncomfortable with the rise of Modi and the BJP to power. Otherwise such hate campaigns would not have repeatedly emanated from American campuses. A majority of these academics are of Indian origin but the brains behind the whole move are undoubtedly white American. Rabid evangelical organisations are backing and funding anti-BJP hysteria because they find that, unlike the Congress Party, the BJP is unwilling to open up India for large-scale conversions to Christianity.
Absurd charges against Modi: The academics’ claim that Digital India is a Modi conspiracy for citizen surveillance, but are they so disconnected from reality that they are unaware that digitisation pre-dates Modi’s assumption of power as PM?
Digitisation is the magic wand that can help transform the face of governance in India, by making it transparent and more accountable. It is the only way the administration can deliver efficient and speedy services and welfare measures to citizens. The e-governance mantra has been adopted by all major political parties in India due to strong pressure from citizens to move in that direction. India has already lost precious time and fallen behind the rest of the world because leftist trade unions obstructed computerisation for nearly two decades. But now nobody in India is willing to brook delays and obstruction in this regard.
Yes, some of these technologies are bound to be used for surveillance, including crime detection, surveillance of hawala networks, monitoring terror networks and beefing up border security. But no one is complaining in India because people realise that India is among the most endangered countries in the world, thanks to its misfortune of having Pakistan as a next-door neighbour, whose self-declared policy is bleeding India to death through a thousand cuts! If these academics are genuinely bothered about the misuse of digital technologies for violating citizens’ right to privacy, let them first persuade the US to dismantle its global snooping systems. They rest of the world, including India, will gladly follow the example.
Incompetents in key posts: The academics also indict the Modi government for appointing incompetent people in key jobs. It is noteworthy that they cannot cite more than three cases. In each
of these three cases, the Modi government has indeed chosen very incompetent persons to head those institutions. But the list does not stop at these three. Many of us are dismayed that the Modi government has allowed too many incompetents and mischief mongers appointed by the Congress regime to either continue in key jobs or even be elevated to higher posts. These are far more glaring examples because they involve officers who were established cronies of the Congress Party and yet managed to get patronage even under the current regime. But such people don't rankle the signatories of this ludicrous appeal because they are "secular crooks."
I am sure there are plenty of such questionable appointments even in American universities. Did people stop investing in the US on that account? The merits of an appointment under any and every regime, in every country of the world, are often questioned and even challenged. This has happened during all regimes in India. But is it their case that before investing in India (and no other country) American investors must scrutinise all government appointments as per the norms set by these self-appointed guardians of academic excellence?
Most important of all, those critiquing the Modi government’s appointments should remember that none of them can beat the unsuitability of Gopa Sabharwal’s anointment as Vice Chancellor of Nalanda University by none other than the venerable Amartya Sen – who is well known to be the intellectual godfather of this academic gang. Gajendra Chauhan is no doubt a poor choice to head the FTII, but Sabharwal is by all accounts even less worthy of the job she was handpicked for in violation of rules, regulations and qualifying criteria. In fact, Sen himself may have been a celebrated economist, but he has earned a lot of ignominy by treating Nalanda as a personal fief, running its affairs through remote control and with little accountability. (Read some of the details here).
Sen’s mismanagement of the affairs of Nalanda caused former President APJ Abdul Kalam, who was the prime mover behind this project, to publicly dissociate himself from it. Sen went around complaining about “political interference in academic institutions” just because the NDA government did not renew his tenure in office when his term ended in July 2015. In fact, Amartya Sen landed this prestigious job only because of nepotism, as he is a personal friend of Manmohan Singh and a leading courtier in Sonia Gandhi’s durbar.
The truth of the matter is that a small coterie of leftist intellectuals and academics have been allowed total monopoly on prized institutions, and have thus come to expect such jobs as their birth right. Whenever this monopoly has been questioned or touched, they rise in outrage and make life hell for whichever regime dares bring in a different set of people. Eminent academics, artists and intellectuals whose credentials are widely respected have been hounded out of their jobs if they do not have the stamp of approval of this intellectually tyrannical coterie. Anyone who dares fall out of line with their agendas and ideological prisms has their careers marred for life.
As far as their charge of government interference in academic institutions is concerned, I wish the Indian signatories to this naïve petition had stayed on in India and launched a determined campaign to free educational institutions from statist controls which were institutionalised when regimes of their choice were in power! Have they forgotten that under CPM rule in West Bengal, leave alone a professor’s job, one could not get even a peon's job without being a card-carrying member of the Communist party? But since these academics chose greener pastures for themselves, let them not waste their precious efforts fretting about the sorry fate of our educational institutions, for the rot began with the Congress party, which ruled India for over five decades. The Congress institutionalised the idea of political interference in institutions. They can rest assured that many of us in India are committed to changing the rules of the game in favour of academic freedom – a task these worthies failed to undertake when they had a chance to do so
NDA crackdown on some NGOs: The statement in their letter, that Modi’s first year in office has meant “bans and restrictions on NGOs” is product of paranoia. They are crying wolf simply because same of their allies among US-funded NGOs have been issued notices to explain why year after year they have knowingly avoided filing audited accounts for the hefty funds they received from western donor agencies, thus violating income-tax laws and FCRA regulations.
A handful of NGOs have had their FCRA registrations cancelled following enquiries which yielded solid documentary evidence of gross corruption, including siphoning of funds to personal accounts, as well as spending money for purposes that were different from the ones originally stated. The most notorious case is that of a Mumbai-based NGO, whose founders Teesta Setalvad and Javed Anand, are great favourites with this clique. These celebrities have been accused of using crores of rupees from a fund collected in the names of the victims of the 2002 Gujarat riots. Teesta and her family allegedly used the money for purchasing personal luxuries, beauty treatments, wine, branded clothes, feasts and foreign travel. It is noteworthy that the investigation into Teesta’s misdemeanors began only after the concerned riot victims filed a police complaint alleging fraud and misappropriation against this NGO. And yet they are being treated as victims of Modi’s wrath!
Is it their case that their favoured NGOs are above the law of the land? Don’t they know how people accused of fraud and non-compliance would have been treated in the US? Yes, Greenpeace has been deprived of FCRA registration. But adverse reports were filed by the Intelligence Bureau against this international NGO under the “secular” UPA regime. In any case, cancellation of FCRA registration only means it cannot receive foreign funds for its political activism. It is free to carry on its propaganda and advocacy campaigns with locally raised resources, as lakhs of NGOs in India do. The FCRA law enacted under the Congress regime mandates that political activity cannot be carried out with foreign funds. Even political parties are banned from doing so. In such a situation, if NGOs indulge in political campaigns for or against this or that party using foreign funds, it cannot by any stretch of imagination be treated as a crackdown on dissent. There is no bar on their activism, provided they abide by the country’s laws like the others. No self-respecting country can allow its politics and economy to be held to ransom by a coterie of organisations propped up by foreign powers, especially those that have a history of harming India’s interests.
As for the charge that Modi’s regime has brought in harassment and censorship of opinions critical to his government, even a casual glance at our newspapers, magazines, TV debates, news programmes and academic writings would show that Modi is under the harshest possible public scrutiny by both media and academia. Some of the criticisms levelled against Modi are well deserved but a good part of it is malicious. Not a single journalist or academic can claim to have suffered on account of Modi bashing. There is only one person in the Modi government who the media chooses not to criticise because he has been their loved one for many long years - much before Modi came to the national scene. The rest in BJP, including Modi, are easy prey!
Then there is the charge of violation of “religious freedom” under the BJP government. This is nothing but a sinister way of painting India as a rogue nation where religious minorities, meaning Christians and Muslims, are under grave threat and being forever massacred. They have mastered the Goebbelsian technique of endlessly repeating lies with vehemence till they acquire the force of truth.
This sustained propaganda has put India on top of the hit-list of jihadi terrorists and created prejudice and fear among global investors. They are thus endangering India by making Islamic terror groups feel justified in executing bomb blasts and other murderous attacks in India. Many among this worthy list had signed similar appeals to Indian voters to prevent Modi from becoming PM, alleging that under his reign India would be engulfed by communal riots and rivers of blood would flow. They are outraged that nothing of the sort has happened. Therefore, they are reduced to gross exaggeration and outright lies by presenting half a dozen minor cases of theft or vandalism of some churches by local hoodlums as proof of the NDA's anti-minority policy. As per police records, in the same period, over 258 cases of theft and vandalism took place in Hindu temples of Delhi, without evoking any hysteria among Hindus or words of sympathy from the votaries of “religious freedom.”
Whatever be their other faults (and the BJP has many), none of the BJP-ruled states - be it Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan or Chhattisgarh - has witnessed communal riots that became the hallmark of Congress regimes. Even Gujarat, which was the most riot-prone state during Congress rule, became totally riot-free for 12 years after Modi understood and brought under control the forces that had instigated the 2002 killings. Since Modi became PM, communal riots have taken place in states ruled by "secular parties" such as the Samajwadi Party in UP and the Congress Party in Manipur and Assam.
It is no coincidence that this pious group of global conscience-keepers has never lobbied for apartheid or economic boycott of military-dominated Pakistan, a state well known for having decimated religious minorities - Hindus, Christians and Sikhs alike - and promoted the most hostile policies against the minuscule non-Muslim minorities that have survived murders, abductions, tyranny, extortion, forced conversions and lack of full citizenship rights. The Pakistani state doesn’t even spare Muslim sects like Ahmediyyas that are considered heretical by Sunni Muslims. At the time of partition, Hindus constituted over 28 percent of the population in the areas that became Pakistan. Today, Hindus constitute about 1.8 percent of Pakistan's population and 8.2 percent of Bangladesh’s. By contrast, the population of Muslims in India has grown from 9.8 percent in 1951 to 14.2 percent in the 2011 census. Yet, it is India and not Pakistan that is consistently targeted by these self-appointed guardians of political morality. These worthies have never mobilised world opinion against Pakistan even though, in pursuit of its undying hostility towards India, Pakistan has made itself the fountainhead of global terrorism. Why? Because Pakistan’s regimes have been bankrolled by the US and act as its puppets.
Would these academics dare petition foreign governments to ban the entry of US presidents whose devious political interventions have wrecked numerous countries and caused mass slaughters in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria?
For the n’th time, they have raised yet again the charge that during Modi’s tenure 1,000 Muslims died in communal riots. However, for once they got their figures somewhat close to reality. Earlier they wouldn’t stop at less than 3,000 Muslim deaths. But they deliberately fail to mention that the total number of killings were as follows: 262 Hindus killed, either by Muslims or in police/army firing on riotous mobs, as against 863 Muslims done to death by Hindus or in police firing. Riots have taken place in several states of India under non-BJP regimes. How is it that their heart bleeds only for the victims of the 2002 riots? How come they have never grieved for the 58 Hindu men, women and children who were burnt alive in a train coach at Godhra by a Muslim mob – an incident that triggered off the retaliatory violence? Their harping on Modi’s complicity even after the Supreme Court of India found no evidence against him, after subjecting Modi’s handling of the riots to intense scrutiny for three long years, shows that their motive is not so noble.
Incidentally, the officers of the Supreme Court-appointed Special Investigative Team (SIT) which grilled Modi and his administration were handpicked with due approval of the professional Modi-baiter, Teesta Setalvad. Yet Modi emerged unscathed. I would feel very privileged if these self-appointed guardians of Indian Muslims would care to challenge and rebut my detailed fact-sheet detailing day-by-day handling of the 2002 riots by Modi’s government, including his public statements. This has been published in my book Modi, Muslims and Media. (It is available on Amazon.com)
I can only conclude by telling the ‘Hate Modi’ Brigade, that the more irrational and malicious their rants against Modi, the more they strengthen public opinion in his defence. The vigorous protest on social media against this petition have not all come from Modi admirers. Many of us who signed the rejoinder to the Silicon Valley petition (read here) are fairly critical of the current functioning of the Modi government. And yet we feel compelled to rise in his defence because the ‘Hate Modi’ campaign has clear ‘Hurt India’ overtones and motivated by the desire to reinstall a scam-ridden regime which has been junked by Indian voters for being venal and harmful for the country.
Those who wish their criticism to be taken seriously have to earn the right by being visibly non-partisan. This includes having the courage to acknowledge the positive aspects and good deeds of the person targeted for scrutiny. There are as many serious lapses being committed by Modi government as there are attempts to improve things. But the petitioners’ blind prejudice is not tempered by reason or a reality check. Therefore, they are only damaging their own credentials and taking attention away from important issues.
The author is a Professor at CSDS and founder of Manushi