Meet the quiet, courageous and faceless men and women who have managed to thwart Narendra Modi’s repeated attempts to visit the United States. Their relentless campaign and quest for justice and accountability for the Gujarat 2002 victims have made it impossible for the US authorities to lift visa curbs on the controversial man from Gujarat. An exclusive interview with Dr Shaik Ubaid, co-founder of the Coalition Against Genocide
[dropcap]N[/dropcap]arendra Modi has not lost any elections–yet. The only defeats the Gujarat chief minister and BJP’s prime ministerial hopeful has suffered have all been in the United States where the many attempts to get the ban lifted on his US visa have been defeated by the Coalition Against Genocide or CAG (www.coalitionagainstgenocide.
The CAG includes a spectrum of nearly 50 civil society groups and organizations in the United States and Canada that came together in response to the 2002 Gujarat genocide to demand accountability and justice.
A lot of the credit for this goes to the relentless and patient efforts and years of hard work by the CAG and its conscientious and committed members. More than 22 members of Congress have joined the CAG as cosponsors in a resolution demanding justice and accountability for the 2002For all his clout and his powerful backers in high places and the powerful friends of the BJP in US and elsewhere in the West, the divisive Gujarat leader has repeatedly been frustrated in his attempts to break free of US curbs as well the tag of someone who presided over the 2002 pogrom.
Over the past couple of weeks, the CAG has been locked in a war of words with Hindu America
Foundation, which has actively been campaigning for Modi and has played a significant role in working up the pressure groups and lobbies in favor of the BJP leader. pogrom. Now more than 50 members of Congress are cosponsors of the resolution.
Subhatul Marjan catches up with CAG spokesperson and cofounder, Dr Shaik Ubaid, who has been one of moving spirits behind the movement, to know more about the group and its cause and how they see the rise and rise of Modi.
Hailing from Hyderabad, Dr Ubaid did his degree in medicine from Osmania Medical College before moving to the US for higher studies. He is an MD in Neurology from Medical College of Wisconsin and holds Fellowship in clinical neurophysiology from Cornell University where he taught for several years. Excerpts from an interview:
Subhatul Marjan: The Coalition Against Genocide and Hindu America Foundation have been fighting a bitter war in a foreign country over Narendra Modi. His supporters accuse you of washing India’s dirty linen on foreign soil and also of undermining India’s image and sovereignty.
Dr. Shaik Ubaid: Well, both HAF and CAG members are based in America. CAG members consider it their moral obligation to uphold and continue the struggle for human rights wherever they are based. So we are not washing India’s dirty linen in a foreign country. We believe that human rights are of universal nature (and must be upheld everywhere).
Historically, India has always spoken out against oppression and injustice since Independence. For instance, look at its stand against Apartheid in South Africa. So if there are violations of human rights going on in India, other countries have an equal right and obligation to speak out against them.
It is Modi’s supporters such as BJP president Rajnath Singh who came to the US with a begging bowl to request for his visa, they are the ones who are guilty of not respecting India’s sovereignty or US laws.
But the CAG supports Resolution HR 417 in US Congress which HAF claims is anti-India.
HR 417 is an excellent resolution that praises India, Hinduism and their ethos of tolerance. It speaks against extremism and the threat it poses to India’s pluralist ethos; that is why Hindutva extremists such as HAF are against it. More than 22 members of Congress have joined as cosponsors after the HAF launched its campaign. We now have more than 50 members of Congress co-sponsoring the resolution.
Please check out the interesting Congressional hearing on the issue: http://iamc.com/press-release/
Did CAG hire a lobbying firm to plead its case?
CAG did not hire any lobbying firm but Indian American Muslim Council has hired a person to lobby, that is: educate the US policy makers about Hindutva. IAMC is an important part of CAG. But that is how things get done in Washington through paid persons-lobbyists who will go meet the politicians to educate and inform them. Modi and RSS have a lobby. Also, HAF has many full-time employees in Washington. IAMC and CAG do not.
HAF blames CAG and you of being anti-Hindu?
CAG is a broad alliance of nearly 50 community based organizations and activists and human rights advocates; and Hindus are very much part of CAG. Also, Hindutva is not Hinduism. We are against the violent supremacist ideology of Hindutva, which strives to eliminate, even violently, Muslims, Christians and other minorities from India.
Let us not forget that they are against moderate Hindus; they killed Gandhiji, the Father of the Nation. The founders of Hindutva started the movement inspired by Italy’s fascist leader Mussolini in the 1920s. Later Hitler became their hero. In Gandhiji’s home state of Gujarat, where now Modi rules, thanks to Hindutva propaganda, Hitler is a bigger hero than Gandhi for the school students.
Hindutva does not recognize Sikhism, Buddhism and Jainism as independent religions. It denies even the religious identity of many of these groups
How would you describe the HAF, a Hindu group or a human rights group?
Neither. They are a Hindutva outfit in the guise of a Hindu advocacy group. They call themselves a human rights group but they continuously attack not only CAG but the most respected human rights groups such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch.
They do not care for India or Hindus or human rights. If they did, then they would try to make India better by working against the human rights violations in India. They never condemned the massacres or rapes in which the government and its agencies have been complicit and that is the worst kind of human rights violation and persecution as universally accepted.
It is much worse than terrorism conducted by groups.
They do not condemn the bomb blasts by Hindutva terror groups such as Abhinav Bharat and the bomb blasts in Mecca Masjid, Samjhauta Express, Malegaon mosque, etc. They advocate for violent groups such as VHP and are linked to it. Have they condemned Bajrang Dal? They try to “contextualize” the massacres and mass scale gang-rapes by Hindutva mobs in Gujarat.
Have they condemned the recent Assam and Muzaffarnagar pogroms and the hatemongering that led to them? They score 0 as far the human rights sensitivity test is concerned; they get an F-. They hold my Muslim Peace Coalition work against war mongering by US neoconservatives as “bad.”
How can they call themselves a rights group? They support causes and groups that are condemned by the USCIRF and the State Department for human rights violations and still hope that the US government will support them because they praise Israel! So childish, shallow and unprincipled!
HAF and its ideological parents, VHP-A and RSS, endanger the political and economic future of unsuspecting Hindu American children who are snared by HAF propaganda and go to their camps and get recruited. Take the case of Sonal Shah she could have been the first Hindu cabinet member in Obama administration. When the president learnt of her VHP-A links he did not give her that position.
What do you make of the HAF report against CAG?
It is a propaganda piece that is full of lies and also was put together in a very amateurish manner. Look at their childish diagram of boxes and names and arrows. They use the language of Islam-baiting and red-baiting hoping to please the Tea Party types and neocons. The links they give is from groups known for Islamophobia and who are not respected by HRW, Amnesty or Southern Poverty Law Center. They did not even do a thorough search of our websites. They say Muslim Peace Coalition is part of CAG.
This widely respected Coalition is not part of CAG. They say FOSA, a leftist member of CAG, has never condemned the violations of human rights in Pakistan, which it has done many times. They think that by dragging Israel’s name they can score political brownie points. It is so stupid, because how can that support their human rights credentials? The report actually helps us go to the inter-faith circles and human rights groups in the US and prove to them that HAF is involved in hate mongering and fear peddling.
The constant demonization of Christian missionaries by HAF hurts them even with the Republican Party and right-wing US organizations. HAF has no strategy other than arrogant fear mongering.
The HAF report attacks you personally as affiliated with Jamate Islami and Muslim Brotherhood through Islamic Circle of North America (ICNA).
That is what I am saying. They use the fear-mongering tactics of American Islamophobia movement and even copy their “research links”. Guilt by association, mudslinging and, lies are used by them. They call ICNA a Jamate Islami front as well as a Muslim Brotherhood front. “Come on guys, make up your mind,” I say.
I joined ICNA for a couple of years during its excellent work against the Bosnia genocide. ICNA was an independent and most dynamic American Muslim organization. When some members of ICNA tried to bring it closer to Jamate Islami, I not only protested it but left ICNA. I left in 1996 or ‘97 along with a big group.
Some of them rejoined ICNA later after it became clear that ICNA will not get close to Jamate Islami. I and many others still did not rejoin. On the other hand I have been working with African-American Muslim groups since 1988 soon after arriving in the US.
To divert attention from the direct links to the militant and extremist VHP, HAF tried to muddy the waters by saying I am linked to ICNA. They say other silly and bizarre things to prove that I am anti-Hindu, anti-US and anti-India! Their report mentions a recent speech I gave to protest the human rights violations in Bangladesh. I protested the attacks on Bangladeshi Hindus, brought out the genocide of Biharis by Bengali nationalists and of Bengalis by the Pakistani army and its allies; in short it was a pure human rights speech.
It was also in India’s interest because if Bangladesh gets destabilized then India will have a bigger Afghanistan on its east. US State Department says the same thing. In fact my appeal to form 2 bodies — an independent international war crimes tribunal along the lines of Bosnia, Rwanda and Sierra Leone, that will look into the genocide of both Bengalis and Biharis and second – a truth and reconciliation commission as was done by Mandela in South Africa, was supported by the Muslim Majlise Mushawarat in India. My article on this issue was published in Tehelka.
What about CCIM (Consultative Community of Indian Muslims)? HAF claims Dr. Siddiqui of CCIM spoke at the first convention of IMC?
It is another joke in the HAF report. CCIM was largely defunct by the time I helped launch Indian Muslims Alert Network (ImanNet) and then the larger IMC (Indian Muslim Council USA) after the Gujarat pogrom in 2002. CCIM was a respected group of
Indians that was courted by the Indian embassy and consulates in the 1970s and 80s and fizzled out in the 90s. It shows HAF’s true mentality that anything “Indian Muslim” gives them a heartburn. They say Dr. Ahmadullah Siddiqui was in CCIM. I do not know if that was true.
What I know that as a result of Hindutva lobby’s accusation that he was the founder of SIMI, American law enforcement agencies investigated Dr. Siddiqui as did his university where he is a professor. They gave him a clean chit. Dr. Siddiqui travels freely to India. The Indian government and US government has put no restrictions on him or charged him. These days even the slight suspicion by Indian and US agencies will get you into legal trouble to say the least. He just gave one speech at the IMC convention and gets so much publicity, maybe we should charge him for it! (smiles)
How is your equation with ICNA, ISNA, CAIR and other national organizations of American Muslims?
They respect my human rights work with CAG, Burma Task Force and Muslim Peace Coalition, but do not like it when I tell American born Muslims and Indian Muslims not to join these organizations. These organizations have to waste so much of their meagre resources defending against false accusations that they are linked to Muslim Brotherhood or Jamate Islami Pakistan. Islamophobes want just that. And that is why they spend hundreds of millions of dollars in propaganda against American Muslims.
But if American born Muslims and Muslims from India, etc., launch an organization led by American born Muslims then they can just focus on the job at hand such as getting political and economic empowerment for Muslims.
America is such an important country; if Muslims get empowerment here we can help human rights causes all over the world. I invite your readers to google and read my open letter to the US Muslim leadership on how to work in a climate of fear. (http://www.ccun.org/Opinion%20Editorials/2010/September/20%20o/Open%20Le…)
It is amazing that CAG has been able to defeat such a powerful Hindutva lobby in the US and got the Modi visa revoked. Since then, you have defeated these forces many times. It is beyond the scope of this interview to discuss how you do that time and again but let me ask you this, is it true that you are the founder of CAG and that you had elaborated on your vision in your presidential speech in the Chicago IMC convention in 2004? You see, unlike the HAF researchers, I have done my research.
Well, sorry but I have to say “no comments” on your research. CAG is a collective alliance. It is not important to know who launched it. Lots of people were involved and many are from Hyderabad. What is important is why we launched it. We had to defeat the launch of Modi.
What you see in India in 2013, it was planned to have taken place in 2005 in the US. Modi was to stay in Waldorf Astoria, speak at Madison Square Garden, and was to inaugurate an India Center in a California University.
His visit was to be a much grander affair than that of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s state visit. We had to make that launch a failure.
We planned well and truth was and is on our side. We succeeded and the Modi wing of BJP had to wait for almost a decade to launch him as a national leader and do that in India and not in the US. Not only principles but excellent planning, hard work and consistency must never be compromised if you wish to succeed. We do not have the material resources the Hindutva fronts such as HAF do but we have some brilliant minds, many hard working souls and all of us have hearts of gold that melt at every tiny tear of the oppressed. HAF cannot beat that.
An earlier version of this interview appeared in online edition of ‘Siasat’ Urdu daily