Don’t turn a blind eye to Indian Prime Minister Modi’s dark history

Modi’s hateful ideology has even spread to Chicagoland. In August 2022, Hindu right-wing groups organized a Hoffman Estates event featuring the leader of a Hindu militant group known for his anti-Muslim speeches.

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Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, pictured here in 2021 in the Oval Office at the White House, returns this week to Washington, D.C., where he  will be hosted by President Joe Biden at a state dinner - much to the dismay of some Indian Americans.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, pictured here in 2021 in the Oval Office at the White House, returns this week to Washington, D.C., where he will be hosted by President Joe Biden at a state dinner - much to the dismay of some Indian Americans.

Photo by Sarahbeth Maney-Pool/Getty Images

For over 25 years I lived in Chicago. Before that, I grew up in Hyderabad, India, where I have witnessed Muslims and Hindus living together in harmony, sharing meals, playing cricket and running businesses side by side.

It’s been profoundly disheartening to witness the growing divide between our communities caused by the rise of Hindu nationalism, which promotes the notion that only Hindus are true citizens of India, while minorities, especially Muslims and Christians, are deemed unworthy of basic human rights.

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Increasingly, this kind of bigotry is practiced by a segment of Indian American Hindus. The celebratory nature of the preparation to receive Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi is an indication of the presence of far right Hindu ideology, promoted by Modi, in Chicago neighborhoods.

Modi was banned from entering the U.S. for eight years due to his role in a massive Hindu nationalist, anti-Muslim pogrom in 2002.

Now the tables have turned. President Joe Biden is set to honor Modi with a state dinner, following which Modi will deliver a speech before Congress. Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo has praised Modi as an “unbelievable, visionary” leader. Despite the Indian government’s frequent raids on critical media outlets in India, the State Department’s Donald Lu has commended Modi’s government for its supposed support of press freedom, stating, “You have India as a democracy because India’s free press really works.”

U.S. leaders are turning a blind eye to Modi’s dark history and helping to legitimize an ideology whose adherents openly advocate the killing and deportation of Indian minority groups. To get into bed with them is not only an affront to minorities around the world but also strategically shortsighted.

Modi’s policies and allies have sown profound instability within India and destroyed many of the country’s core democratic institutions. The Indian Judiciary has become a machine for attacking regime critics and allowing the murderers of Muslims to walk free. Critical news outlets are routinely shuttered and raided by state police.

Almost every day, we see Hindu nationalist politicians, including members of Modi’s own political party, calling on their followers to kill Muslims. How many times does the U.S. need to make the same mistake to learn we cannot rely on authoritarian leaders as reliable foreign policy partners?

This bromance between U.S. presidents and Modi appears to be bipartisan or apolitical, in 2019 it was Trump and Modi in Houston, now it’s Biden hosting a state dinner.

Modi’s hateful ideology has even spread to Chicagoland. In August 2022, Hindu right-wing groups organized a Hoffman Estates event featuring Sadhvi Rithambara, a leader of Hindu militant group Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), whose hateful speeches have been described as “the single most powerful instrument for whipping up anti-Muslim violence” in India’s recent past.

We should not stay silent while minorities anywhere are mercilessly torn apart from their loved ones by hatred. By welcoming Modi to the U.S. and remaining silent on his record of hate and complicity for violence, our leaders are in effect giving a culture of hate a free pass. It is a travesty. I hope and pray Chicago, Illinois and U.S. leaders will use this opportunity to reject Modi’s violent vision with one of love and unity.

Rasheed Ahmed, executive director, Indian American Muslim Council

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Before the mayor spends $6.8 million on new monuments, perhaps he can return the Christopher Columbus statue to its rightful place in Little Italy. This would be a good first step for the mayor and would show us that he cares about all Chicagoans, not just only certain groups.

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