EXPLAINED: Challenges for Australian PM on visit to India

Ahmed, who goes under an alias, has been carrying a photo album of Gujarati events for decades.

Some children’s bodies covered in flames. Some have indicators of violent assaults.

The pictures, which media saw but decided against publishing because they were too gruesome, were taken in Gujarat, a state that hugs India’s western shore, soon after the riots of 2002.

According to official statistics, 1,044 individuals – mostly Muslims but also more than 250 Hindus – were slain by mobs during a three-month unrest ignited by a train fire that claimed the lives of 59 Hindu pilgrims.

The source of the fire generated debate both inside and outside of India; one commission said Muslims had set it on purpose, while another investigation claimed it was an accident. Nonetheless, 35 persons were finally found guilty of the crime.

Ahmed’s father approached his wife in the ensuing crisis, which saw numerous attacks targeted against Gujarat’s Muslim community. A member of the family had died.

“[He advised her] if the place is compromised, and crowds have invaded us… then they should eat poison,” Ahmed, now living in Australia, adds.

Do that with my sisters so they won’t be subjected to sexual abuse because we would already be dead by then.

“Fear, in a word.”

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese is travelling to India to meet with his counterpart Narendra Modi, who was Gujarat’s chief minister at the time.

With 25 other business leaders from Australia, Mr Albanese is eager to strengthen connections with a nation expected to have the largest population in the world by the end of this year.

India is also Australia’s top source of applications from international students, and the most recent Census revealed that India had surpassed China in terms of overall migration to Australia.

Mr Albanese’s primary concern will be trade, but allegations of human rights violations, particularly about India’s Muslim population, loom big.

In testimony before India’s Supreme Court, a top police official claimed that Mr Modi, India’s fourth-longest serving prime minister, had ignored the riots in Gujarat in 2002.

Mr Modi has consistently angrily denied the allegations, and in 2012, the Indian legal system cleared him.

Yet, notwithstanding the verdict, human rights organizations and political analysts assert that since his government came to power in 2014, Hindu nationalism has become more entrenched.

And this January, a BBC documentary revealed a UK government report from the time that claimed he was “directly responsible” for “climate of impunity” during the riots in the country, which it said to bore “all the hallmarks of ethnic cleansing.” This was when the Gujarat allegations were brought back to light.

The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), led by Mr Modi, swiftly condemned the documentary and utilized emergency powers to prevent the first episode, which focused on Gujarat, from broadcasting in India.

According to a government official, the bias, lack of objectivity, and persistent colonial attitude are obviously visible.

Soon after, police searched the BBC offices in Mumbai and New Delhi as part of what they claimed was a tax inquiry. According to reports, journalists’ phones and files were checked.

Ahmed is convinced that Mr Modi and the BJP were involved in the violence in Gujarat based on his personal experience at the time.

If I were to describe my memories of India in a single word, I would say terror, he says.

Beneficial strategic partner

According to reports, in August, Mr Modi’s home affairs minister approved the early release of 11 men who had been given life sentences for the murder of several Muslim family members and the gang rape of another during the Gujarat riots.

Meenakshi Ganguly, the South Asia director for Human Rights Watch (HRW), claimed that given that India is a democracy as opposed to China, many in the world community consider India as a “useful strategic” partner.

She added, “[but] India should uphold human rights principles at home and pursue them abroad as a member of the world community.

According to HRW investigations, attacks and mob violence against religious minorities have increased since the BJP came to power, particularly in Delhi in 2020, where 53 people—40 Muslims—were killed.

Muslims are among the minorities targeted, but so are Sikhs and Christians, according to HRW, which also said that the court system had given nationalist organizations more authority.

After months of demonstrations against contentious citizenship legislation established by Mr Modi’s administration, which HRW claimed discriminated against Muslims, violence broke out in Delhi. Mr Modi refuted the charge.

The BJP and its affiliates, according to Ms Ganguly, have “long preached a Hindu majoritarian nationalist ideology,” and their members and supporters have been charged with using hate speech, inciting violence, and even committing acts of violence.

The BJP-led administration hasn’t done an excellent job of looking into and holding its followers accountable for these atrocities. On the other hand, authorities have accused critics of crimes with political motivations and even put them in jail, she added.

According to HRW, people are also being killed extrajudicially for selling cows, which Hindus revere. Police in Haryana state detained a person they believe is associated with cow vigilante groups after learning that two Muslims were allegedly slain and set afire in February.

Western journalism’s “moral colonies.”

We contacted Mr Modi’s office for comment, but they did not answer.

He nonetheless explicitly rejected religious provocation from “the minority or the majority” not long after assuming power.

“I vehemently reject such violence. In this regard, my government will take decisive action, he vowed.

The president of the Overseas Friends of BJP Australia, Jay Shah, denied reports that violence against religious minorities is rising in India. The organization does not speak on behalf of the party or the Indian government.

Due to circular reference in Western media circles, he claimed, “questions on the claims are being posed exceptionally frequently and are a reflection of superficial journalism alienated from contemporary realities.

Mr Shah claimed India, under Mr Modi, has “taken care of all its residents” during the COVID-19 crisis. He was yet to “come across discrimination in this tremendous endeavour”.

According to him, India’s 1.4 billion people are unified and sure they will not become moral outposts for Western journalism, the West, or anybody else.

Its democratic institutions are more robust, on a level with or even better than many of its contemporaries, and they can handle their problems without outside help.

However, Mr Shah expressed the expectation that topics like expanding trade, combating climate change, working together on technology, and “of course, cricket” will be on the agenda.

‘Diplomatic minefields’ Robin Jeffrey, a professor of Indian politics at La Trobe University, acknowledged that there were many tiny diplomatic minefields’ in the relationship between India and Australia.

Mr Jeffrey claimed that “careful behind-the-scenes diplomatic work” with New Delhi was the reason for the extradition of an Indian man accused of killing a lady in Cairns this week.

After this month’s elections, the BJP, which enjoys strong public support, will take power in three states, including two with a majority of Christians.

According to Mr Jeffrey, India is experiencing a “remarkable time” where technical advancements like the adoption of ubiquitous digital payments drastically alter Indian life.

But he added that, in his opinion, the BJP’s “ultimate purpose” was to establish a “very homogenized India, of a certain Hindu kind”.

“[It’s] to produce a unified version supporting Hindu supremacism. With this ultimate theological appeal, it would be a majoritarian type of governance, he argued.

Mr Jeffrey forewarned that tension would undoubtedly increase if religious minorities, such as the 200 million Muslims who live in India, were marginalized.

It’s difficult to fathom being able to kick sand in the faces of a significant section of your population for an extended period without experiencing any negative consequences. It won’t be pleasant,” he said.

Mr. Jeffrey was concerned that a growing Hindu nationalist movement might retaliate violently.

“That was very much the discourse around the Godhra [train fire before the Gujarat riots] incident. “They were well known to all,” he continued.

As an Australian Strategic Policy Institute expert, Teesta Prakash asserted that Mr Modi had changed since 2002 and understood that violent outbursts “cannot become a large-scale event” as India’s prominence in the global arena increased.

“You can’t let that kind of stuff slide in India if you want to be a successful leader. He has understood that you must be a secular leader, she remarked.

Because of the intense scrutiny from the worldwide media, “you need to ensure that these events stay under control.”

The Hindu faith is essential to the BJP, but Mr Modi projects modern Hinduism ” brilliantly,” according to Dr Prakash.

The Hindu proverb “The world is one family” has been plastered throughout the G20 preparations, which India will host this year.

“[He’s] adapting Hinduism to the needs of the current geopolitical, geo-economic issues happening in multiple continents,” Dr Prakash remarked.

She claimed that his broad appeal stems from a mix of “security-oriented protection” policies and measures to relieve household constraints, such as gas and oil subsidies.

“[Then] there is his demeanour, which is mysterious. He is not a bad leader. If I were to describe it in a single word, it comes down to charisma,” she remarked.

Foreign Minister Penny Wong’s rhetoric changed when she visited New Delhi last week.

Senator Wong said on Wednesday that the accusations against Gujarat were “a matter for the Indian court system,” which she insisted had resolved the issue. She avoided mentioning the BBC raid by stating that Canberra “engages” with New Delhi on human rights matters.

After being questioned by journalists several times during the day on Thursday, Senator Wong acknowledged that she had discussed the raid with her Indian counterpart.

She added that we advocate on these issues publicly and privately, and I believe I declined to do so through the media yesterday.

According to Dr Prakash, suppose you doubt that [ruling], you examine the legal system. That implies that you are also somewhat contesting Indian democracy. There are consequences to that.

She felt it would be unhelpful for Australian politicians to openly criticize the Indian government because it would damage a relationship that had taken “so much effort on both sides” to mend.

She noted that Australia conducts much of its diplomacy informally and through personal contacts.

India also helps to keep Australia in sync. Everything, including values and interests, is two-way.

Dr Prakash acknowledged that polarization was increasing in India and that some castes and religions were “favoured over others.” According to Dr Prakash, Mr Modi was neither openly endorsing this polarization nor “going out and denying” it.

He is being passively ignored, she observed.

Additionally, Dr Prakash said Canberra would perceive religious polarization in India as an issue more and more as the Indian diaspora in Australia expands.

Message from Ahmed to Anthony Albanese

The day before he left, on Tuesday, Mr Albanese complimented a “deep friendship grounded in shared democratic ideals”. He expressed excitement about meeting Mr Modi when he visits Australia this year.

His sentiments were endorsed by Australian Coalition leader Peter Dutton, who said to the media: “The warmth Mr Modi has for our country is sincere”.

Ahmed feels “totally hopeless” as he sees his country slip into what he calls an “extreme situation” thousands of miles away from India.

The Indian government barely holds them accountable, and foreign countries hardly hold the Indian government accountable. Muslim people live in dread. You keep yourself hidden, he said.

His expectations of Mr Albanese are crystal clear.

Urge [Mr. Modi] to make Hindu extremist groups accountable for continuing to kill innocent Muslims, he said.

Even if [Mr. Modi] doesn’t accept responsibility for what happened in Gujarat; he should at least stop India from becoming a nightmare.

Latest articles

Cryptocurrencies not useful to society: Nvidia

Even if the US chipmaker Nvidia's potent processors are sold in vast amounts to the industry, the corporation has claimed that cryptocurrencies do not...

Trying to preserve heritage, Greece witness public protest

Archaeologist Manolis Psarros was attacked earlier this month while going to his car on a dark side street in Athens. The state employee's office...

UNHCR raises $23,000 for quake victims in Turkey, Syria

The online community Alright Bears auctioned an exclusive piece of digital art to benefit earthquake victims in Turkey and Syria. Bears markets their bear pictures...

Australian Navy assists two civilians in distress

In less than four hours, two civilian vessels in trouble received prompt assistance from Navy ships. Both the multi-role aviation training vessel MV Sycamore and...

Related articles