The In­dian ac­tivist who de­fied the In­dian PM

The Pak Banker - - 4EDITORIAL - An­wer Mooraj

PRIME min­is­ters and pres­i­dents all over the world have been ac­cused of all sorts of things, usu­ally fi­nan­cial im­pro­pri­ety, fol­lowed by sex­ual scan­dals and liv­ing on the wrong side of a moral and sex­ual chasm. But be­ing ac­cused of com­plic­ity in a spate of or­gan­ised killings does not hap­pen too of­ten.

How­ever, it did sur­face in the case of Naren­dra Modi, the for­mer chief min­is­ter of the state of Gu­jarat and cur­rently prime min­is­ter of In­dia. He has been ac­cused, along with 62 politi­cians and gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials, of al­leged com­plic­ity in the Gu­jarat ri­ots which took around a thou­sand lives.

The ac­cuser, who had spent months col­lect­ing ev­i­dence of Modi's pos­si­ble in­volve­ment in the ri­ots, is Teesta Se­tal­vad, an In­dian hu­man rights ac­tivist who has dis­played a con­ta­gious and des­per­ate energy.

She is the re­cip­i­ent of the Padma Shri Award, sec­re­tary of Cit­i­zens for Jus­tice and Peace and a highly re­spected citizen of Gu­jarat.

Ms Se­tal­vad's an­tenna went up when af­ter con­duct­ing pre­lim­i­nary in­ves­ti­ga­tions, she dis­cov­ered that the names of the al­leged ac­cused did not fig­ure in any of the FIR charge sheets. A few cyn­ics on my side of the bor­der were a lit­tle as­ton­ished. A Hindu woman in­ves­ti­gat­ing a Hindu prime min­is­ter for al­leged wrong­do­ing in a state where the ma­jor­ity of vic­tims of the butch­ery were Mus­lims? It hap­pens. And what is more that it has hap­pened on more than one oc­ca­sion.

In spite of Modi and the Hindu ex­trem­ists who have cre­ated a cul-de-sac of im­po­tent rage against all mi­nori­ties, In­dia still claims to be a sec­u­lar coun­try and the In­dian Supreme Court is to­tally above re­proach.

Whether Modi has been fly­ing be­low the radar and whether or not he was per­son­ally in­volved in the killings is for the In­dian courts to de­cide. But what is so de­press­ing is that when it comes to us­ing po­lit­i­cal pres­sure to in­tim­i­date a po­lit­i­cal op­po­nent in a gov­ern­ment that claims to be a democ­racy, there is re­ally not much dif­fer­ence be­tween the two South Asian coun­tries.

On the eve of court pro­ceed­ings that could have Modi fac­ing crim­i­nal charges for the ri­ots, mem­bers of the Cen­tral Bureau of In­ves­ti­ga­tion, who have gained no­to­ri­ety for car­ry­ing out the wishes of its po­lit­i­cal mas­ters, con­ducted a 24-hour raid of the Se­tal­vad fam­ily home in Juhu in Mum­bai.

The goons opened cup­boards, dress­ing ta­ble draw­ers, jew­ellery boxes and linen clos­ets. They even pored through per­sonal di­aries and letters. And when the sun rose over the gray Ara­bian Sea the next morn­ing, the agents carted off 3,179 doc­u­ments.

Shortly af­ter Modi's tri­umphant elec­tion, the state of Gu­jarat filed an af­fi­davit in the In­dian Supreme Court in which it ac­cused Ms Se­tal­vad and her hus­band Javed Anand of per­pe­trat­ing a colos­sal fraud by rais­ing funds, os­ten­si­bly for the riot vic­tims, but si­phon­ing them off for their own pur­poses.

The af­fi­davit omit­ted to men­tion that the Ford Foun­da­tion and other donors found no ev­i­dence what­so­ever of fi­nan­cial wrong­do­ing.

Mean­while, Ms Se­tal­vad and her hus­band have had their pass­ports taken away, their bank ac­counts frozen and are in such dire fi­nan­cial straits that they can no longer pay their lawyers.

Ms Se­tal­vad's sup­port­ers, and in re­cent times the num­ber has been grow­ing, see the state's ac­tion as an at­tempt to hu­mil­i­ate and si­lence a critic who has been doggedly col­lect­ing ev­i­dence.

Pre­vi­ous In­dian prime min­is­ters have tried to curb the in­flu­ence of for­eign­ers fund­ing NGOs, and the In­dian gov­ern­ment's com­ments against the Ford Foun­da­tion pro­voked a rare cen­sure from the US Am­bas­sador, Richard R Verma, in May, who said he was wor­ried about the chill­ing ef­fects of a crack­down on the Ford Foun­da­tion and other US donors. I think the Amer­i­cans meant it as a warn­ing.

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