India burns while Trump hugs its president

Mar 28

Guest column: Trump hugs president of India as the nation burns with sectarian violence.

Florida Times Union, Mar 8, 2020

An American president visits a foreign capital. During the visit, violence breaks out in the capital city. People die. The White House utters barely a word of concern. This is the new normal in American foreign policy.

President Donald Trump has not only emboldened dictators like Russia’s Vladimir Putin or Saudi Arabia’s Mohammed bin Salman, he has also tacitly encouraged democratically elected leaders like India’s Narendra Modi to go forward with transforming a secular democratic republic into a majoritarian nationalist state.

The Delhi riots, which started on Feb. 24, well before Air Force One was wheels up from New Delhi, has claimed the lives of at least 46 people, mostly Muslim, often killed in brutal mob violence. In addition, the riots saw the destruction of hundreds of houses, businesses, vehicles and even mosques.

Sectarian violence is not new to India. I grew up in its shadows.

However, this is the first time that such violence erupted literally a few miles away from where the U.S. president was basking in the glory of crowd sizes.

In contrast, in 2002, when Modi looked the other way as mobs went on a killing rampage in Gujarat, then-President George W. Bush banned Modi from entering the U.S. Now Trump hugs Modi.

By the second day of Trump’s India visit, at least a dozen people had lost their lives and yet when was asked about religious freedom, Trump praised Modi saying that Modi wants “the people to have religious freedom and very strongly.”

In contrast, on Feb. 26, the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom noted, “reports are mounting that the Delhi police have not intervened in violent attacks against Muslims, and the government is failing in its duty to protect its citizens. These incidents are even more concerning in the context of efforts within India to target and potentially disenfranchise Muslims across the country, in clear violation of international human rights standards.”

Modi has abdicated the Gandhian vision of India’s founding ideals. Gandhi’s dream of India as a secular state that respects all religions stands in stark opposition to the Hindutva ideology of today’s ruling Modi government. They seek to remake India into a majoritarian state, establishing the hegemony of Hindus over all other minority faiths in India.

While the Delhi riots have exposed the incompetence of the Modi government in protecting all its citizens, it has also shown us the best of humanity. Hindus and Sikhs opened their homes to welcome Muslims who were displaced or lost their homes. Many Hindus actively thwarted mobs from burning down the homes of their Muslim neighbors. But the violence was preventable.

Although the violence has not exclusively victimized Muslims, Muslims have suffered disproportionately.

India matters. It is a major American trading partner but more so it is the largest secular democracy. If India turns into majoritarian nationalist state, can the oldest democracy be immune from the takeover by similar retrograde forces?