The Indian activist who defied the Indian PM
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.