by Abdullah Zaman, a first year student reading History at Cambridge, volunteers for the Patchwork Foundation (a foundation that aims to involve the disengaged in politics).
Few politicians can take hold of the world stage like the Indian Prime Minister, Narendra Modi. There are even fewer who can do so with a scandalous background of religious conflict. Allegations about Modi’s role as Chief Minister of Gujarat during 2002 Riots led him to be the only person to be banned entry to the US i2005 for “severe violations of religious violations”. Yet almost a decade later, we witnessed Modi charm screaming crowds alongside Hugh Jackman in New York’s Global Citizen Festival in September 2014.
The Gujarat riots of 2002 began under the pretense of religious violence between Hindus and Muslims. A train carrying Hindu pilgrims caught fire, killing 58 passengers. The cause of the fire, though now deemed as an accident, was blamed on Muslim conspirators. Hindu mobs then proceeded to retaliate by killing, raping, looting in Muslim areas of Gujarat. The two-month ordeal led to the deaths of 1000 people (mostly Muslims), the displacement of 150,000 and the destruction of 360 places of worship. Allegations were made that the local government was complicit in allowing communal violence to escalate to such dizzying levels. Mayaben Kodnami, one of Modi’s top lieutenants, was sentenced to 28 years for murder, arson and conspiracy. 31 other people were convicted for the death of 38 Muslims. Modi, however, has survived managed to survive unscathed. Claims have been made by high ranking politicians and policemen that Modi endorsed violence upon Muslims. But conclusive prosecuting evidence has yet to be found. Questions still linger on whether he took appropriate action to stop the riots; policemen were seen doing nothing in some cases. Suspicions also rose about his lack of remorse for the handling of the riots. All this begs the question: how does one make such a jump in the eyes of international audiences?
Being elected Prime Minister of the world’s largest democracy does help. With a population of 1.3 billion and a sizeable influence on Asia’s geopolitical landscape, the US can hardly ignore India’s head of government. Common sense does explain why Modi’s visa ban was revoked. But what it doesn’t explain is the fervor and adoration foreign dignitaries have shown in receiving him. Since his election, Modi has made 28 foreign trips with little controversy. He has managed to create ties with his Japanese counter-part, Shinzo Abe, which grow evermore important due to rising tensions between China and Japan. But it is not only political leaders that have become dazzled by Modi. Business leaders have also taken a personal liking to the Indian Prime Minister. Having met Mark Zuckerberg in Facebook’s HQ, Modi has a busy schedule of meeting the other heads of tech companies within Silicon, including the Google and Apple. Of course Modi’s strength in making friends overseas does not purely reside on his personality or on his characteristics. All these leaders, political or otherwise, are eager to meet with him for business purposes. He offers them all the chance t make money and that alone is enough for them to forget the ghosts of the Gujarat Riots.
Such developments are not surprising considering Modi’s achievement on Gujarat’s economy during his reign as Chief Minister. Gujarat averaged almost 10% more than India as a whole in annual GDP growth during his reign of 2001 to 2012. It has become the easiest place of doing business in India and has a thriving Industrial scene. It is still surprising, however, how little the press has covered Modi’s own past in light of these new developments. Worries of religious intolerance have become more apparent in India since his election, with recent events suggesting it is on the rise. Yet still the Gujarat Riots have not received a mention in international media. Even in the age of ethical business and consumers, Modi’s growing networks have gone relatively unnoticed. His rebirth suggests the proposition that the clearest way to redemption is through a series of pro-business policies; that profit is all that is needed to forget. This sets a chilling precedent for future political leaders to follow.