By Vrinda Gopinath
Remember when a terror-stricken Narendra Modi called off his visit to London in March 2005, when he was to address his ardent Gujarati fans on Gujarat Day, at the Royal Albert Hall in London? At that time, Modi, who was to visit London on his way back from the US, was halted right in his tracks for two reasons – one, the US had just denied him a visa to enter the country for his role in the 2002 Gujarat riots, and so he could not embark on his visit to the US. Two, Modi hastily called off his visit to London soon after, as there was a real fear of his arrest by a London magistrate, and to be tried for the Gujarat 2002 genocide, if he had set foot in the country. Of course, a terrified Modi declared it was a security threat that prompted him to cancel his trip.
At that time, the British Government had been petitioned by two mothers, Ayesha and Rabia Dawood, from Batley, West Yorkshire, for justice for their two sons, Shakheel and Sayed Dawood, who were killed in the Gujarat riots. The two Dawood cousins were on holiday in India, and were dragged from their jeep by a mob 45 miles from Ahmedabad. Another cousin escaped but a family friend and the driver were also killed.
The Dawood family solicitor, the London-based Imran Khan, had announced in a public meeting that he would get arrest warrants against Modi as soon as he sets foot on British soil. This led the Indian embassy and British Foreign Office to advise New Delhi to save both the governments from the embarrassment in case Modi was arrested, like the late Chilean dictator Pinochet in October 1998.
Today, it is legal threats like this that makes Amrit Wilson, of the South Asia Solidarity Group, which is leading the anti-Modi campaign in the UK, optimistic that their efforts to stop Modi from entering Britain will pay off. Says Wilson from London, “We are exploring several ways of making our Stop Modi campaign to be effective – through our online petition and signature campaign; organising public demonstrations and rallies; and whipping up public opinion in the media. And of course, we will resort to legal remedies too.”
In fact, so effective have Indian human rights groups in Britain been that in 2009, former Congress union minister Jagdish Tytler was dropped from the Indian delegation for the launch of the Commonwealth Games baton relay in London, held in October. Sikh groups had petitioned a British MP to ask Scotland Yard to arrest Tytler for his role in the 1984 Sikh massacre. They appealed to MPs and ministers with reports of the Nanavati Commission that showed evidence against Congress leaders like Tytler, Sajjan Kumar and H.K.L. Bhagat for instigating mobs to attack and kill Sikhs. Tytler was chairman of the volunteers committee of the Commonwealth Games Organising Committee.
Wilson is dismissive of the invitation extended by Labour Friends of India to Modi last week, which has set off the latest burst of outrage by Modi opponents. The Labour MP from Brent, and chairman of the Friends of India, Barry Gardiner, had sent a letter to Modi last week inviting him to the House of Commons to speak on ‘The Future of Modern India’. In a rare show of political unity, the Conservative Friends of India also issued an invitation, when its co-chairman, Sailesh Vara MP, from North West Cambridgeshire gushed for an opportunity to hold an event too. Says Wilson, “All this hoopla doesn’t count for much as both MPs are vying for the Gujarati vote in their respective constituencies. This invitation has provoked a lot of progressive people to protest and will find resonance on the streets of Britain.”
So, will Narendra Modi really take up the offer to visit London and risk the embarrassment of facing such a tide of protests by human rights activists and their supporters? Wilson and friends have planned a massive protest demonstartion on September 9, in Gardiner’s constituency of Brent. Worse, there is also the prospect of a possible arrest warrant by a British magistrate for the murder of three Britons in Gujarat during the riots. Can a prospective prime minister in waiting afford to have egg on his face with black marches and cries for his arrest? Perhaps, Modi has no intention of going to Britain at all, and this invitation is yet another gimmick by his PR machinery to publicise his new acceptability in the western world which, the latter, is going surely but cautiously. The bets are on — post your odds on this site!!
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