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HindustanTimes Fri,18 Apr 2014

Squabbling over Modi, they risk India's record on religious freedom

Yashwant Raj, Hindustan Times  Washington, December 06, 2013
First Published: 09:57 IST(6/12/2013) | Last Updated: 16:56 IST(6/12/2013)

Warring US loyalists and detractors of Narendra Modi have landed India in a position where it may soon find itself forced to defend its record on civil rights and religious freedom.

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The Indian American Muslim Council, an anti-Modi group, has hired a top DC lobbyist to garner support not for Modi, but for the need to press India on religious freedom.

Fidelis Government Relations, the lobbyist, registered itself with US congress to represent the muslim council on November 1, according to a disclosure filed by the firm.

And its brief, according to the same document was, “To advance better US India relations by incorporating religious freedom and civil rights issues as part of the bilateral framework.”

This was one of the demands in a Resolution moved in the House of Representatives last month by a bipartisan group of lawmakers to counter their colleagues warming up to Modi.

That resolution hasn’t passed yet, and congressional aides said they were confident it never will: only 27 lawmakers have signed it so far, that’s less than a fifth of the House.

But it’s on the table for a lobbyist to exploit.

The resolution is “an attempt to interfere in India's upcoming elections by vilifying prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi,” said the Hindu American Foundation on Thursday.

The foundation insists it was not always pro-Modi. It did not oppose the decision to deny him a visa in 2005 for his “alleged failure in utilising state machinery to control the riots”.

It became a supporter when the US continued to deny him a visa while overlooking those guilty of much worse. And Modi had been absolved by a Supreme Court-appointed team.

The muslim council, which is a part of the Coalition Against Genocide that has been behind Modi’s US isolation, believes HAF is just a front for pro-Modi fundamentalist forces.

“While HAF claims to represent Indian Americans, it has consistently batted for extremist and divisive ideologies that are bent on tearing apart the social fabric of India,” it said.

Neither outfit started this conflict though.

It was started by the Coalition Against Genocide, of which the council is a member, when it persuaded US congress to pass a resolution denying Modi a visa in 2005.

For years since, Modi supporters stayed  low and out of sight. They posted their first real challenge earlier this year taking three Republican lawmakers to meet Modi in Gujarat.

Led by influential Republican leader Cathy McMorris Rodgers, the delegation expressed support for Modi and assured him of all they could do to get him a visa to visit the US.

Backed by a Chicago businessman Shalli Kumar, these lawmakers set about rehabilitating Modi, with a Republican party embrace at an outreach event on the Hill.

That set into motion a process that led to the House resolution questioning India’s record on religious freedom, while actually aiming to keep Modi out of the US.

Under attack, the muslim council tried to defend itself on Thursday saying the House resolution, which it supports, actually praises India as well as Hinduism.

“Its primary focus is human rights and religious freedom. HAF's characterisation of the resolution as anti-India or anti-Hindu is completely false and deliberately misleading.”
 
India would be watching this one closely, just in case.

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