As the Indian prime minister visits Britain, Sheena Sumaria talks to writer Amrit Wilson, founder member of the South Asia Solidarity Group, about Modi’s violent past and neoliberal policies


Counterfire: Why are people angry about Narendra Modi’s visit?

AW: People are angry because he has been implicated in mass murder and they feel that what he is doing is not in their name.

A lot of us had been worried about him coming to power because of his record in Gujarat and his various statements, but since he has been in power, our fears have been more than confirmed, and what we are really seeing in India is a nightmare of daily intimidation, lynching, rapes, attacks on Muslims, Christians, and on Dalits. This has been accompanied by a change in the structure of the economy. We see trade unions being crushed, labour laws being swept aside and corporates given a free hand to destroy the environment and indulge in massive human rights abuses. There is a gradual transformation of the economy, which is not in the interest of India’s people.

There’s a rewriting of history to glorify a mythical Hindu past. Modi’s regime is also trying to bring very rigid rules around who you can and cannot love, what you can and cannot eat, and these rules are being used as a pretext for killings, rapes and lynchings. There have been 4 lynchings in the last 6 weeks – in Manipur, Kashmir, Dadri and Uttarkhand for the supposed consumption of beef or cow slaughter. There was the petrol-bombing of a truck that was supposedly carrying cows.

Modi’s silence around these killings is a very powerful message that he doesn’t oppose these things. If you look at the consumption of beef for example, during his election campaign, he talked about a ‘pink revolution’ of cow slaughter and beef production that would occur in India were he not to be elected. This is now coming to fruition so it’s no surprise that he is silent.

We also have statements from cabinet ministers who are in the BJP, people like VK Singh, who is the External Affairs Minister, who compared the burning alive of two young Dalit children – a 9-month-old girl and her brother – to the stoning of a dog in the street. That’s not dissimilar to Modi’s remark about the Gujarat genocide, of which he said he felt as sad as he would have if a car ran over a puppy.

Behind this is the continuing violence against Dalits, Muslims and day-to-day violence, which is not even reported. At the same time, the number of farmer suicides has been increasing.

Modi’s supporters say that he has been cleared by the Supreme Court for his involvement in the Gujarat 2002 Riots. Is this true?

Two major cases against Modi are still ongoing. There’s the civil case led by the family of the Dawood brothers, British nationals who were murdered during the genocide. There’s also the case of Zakia Jafri, whose husband and MP, was murdered and mutilated during the genocide. This is all ongoing, so I don’t really see how people can say he has been cleared.

What does the Bihar election defeat mean?

Bihar demonstrated that people are sick and tired of Modi’s hate politics, and they are not really taken in by the types of things he is doing. The Bihar elections demonstrated the kind of tactics that the Modi government and the BJP use to sway public opinion. When they saw that they weren’t doing well they pulled out the communal card to create divisions between Muslims and Dalits, but people were not taken in. He also tried to woo the people in the area of Bihar bordering Nepal, which is why he encouraged the blockade of fuel to Nepal. Despite these desperate measures he was thoroughly defeated.

The Bihar election has seen the resurgence of the left, especially in the heartland of the left – the areas in which they have always been strong for the last 50 years. They had not done very well in the last election, but they have come back in a big way now, getting more seats that some of the BJP allies, and thoroughly beating BJP candidates in at least two major seats. These are very encouraging signs.

While one can say that the party that has won in Bihar is still a neoliberal party, it’s not a fascist party. Modi’s BJP, on the other hand, is a party that has shaped itself around neoliberalism but at the same time it has a deeply fascist ideology.

How are neoliberalism and fascism linked in India?

When you look at the rise of the BJP, it really got a big boost after the destruction of the Babri Masjid in 1992, and from that period onwards, it shaped itself around the imperative of neoliberalism. So it was a neoliberal party through and through. The privatisation and selling off of India’s assets to multinational companies, cutting down all public services, the attack on women, while at the same time talking about women as workers – these are all examples of the BJP’s neoliberalism.

But behind this was also a fascist ideology. These are the two faces of the BJP. You have hedge fund owners and big corporates who also speak about the need to protect Hindus, who they feel are under attack, and these people will make deeply Islamophobic and anti-Christian remarks. You just need to look through the pages of Asian Voice to find these types of people.

In Hindutva the hatred of minorities is systematic. It’s an integral part of it. Hindutva fascism is very sophisticated and we must not underestimate it. This is not only against minorities. It’s also against Dalits, and Dalits are not a minority in India. Hindutva is an upper caste Hindu ideology. They have taken the most reactionary aspects within a religion and made them central to their ideology.

Modi came to power with a huge mandate because he promised acche din (better days). This is partly because India had a neoliberal government before that. Manmohan Singh’s government had the same neoliberal policies – not as viciously neoliberal perhaps, but still neoliberal. But here you have a more right-wing government that is also based on an upper-caste distortion of Hinduism, to make it essentially fascist.

Modi is proud of the economic record of Gujarat when he was the Chief Minister of the state. Did Gujarat make much progress during his term?

Raghuram Rajan, the governor of India’s Reserve Bank, did a survey in 2013 of the different states, and Gujarat came out very poorly in that. Then over the summer we saw the Patel agitation [the Patel community in Gujarat protested for quotas to give them better access to education and jobs]. While the demands of the protesters were very problematic, they had a point. They were suffering – as farmers, most of them – and there was massive unemployment among young people. The farms were not doing very well. This is all under the Gujarat model. This is the model that has been glorified by the corporates.

Now we hear that Modi wants to buy arms. India is the largest importer of arms in the world. Who are these arms being used against? They are being used against India’s own people, whether in Chhattisgarh or in Kashmir or Manipur. This is the reality of India’s economic development.

Why is the UK government so eager to welcome Modi?

Britain is short of cash and it wants to sell things to India and buy things cheap. This fits in with Modi’s ‘Make in India’ policy. This is why much of the British press is praising him to the skies. I’m told that the BBC has even set up a studio in Wembley. This is hardly normal behaviour. Until the recent article in the Guardian, there was absolutely no mention of Modi or India ever since Modi came into power. There was a total embargo on any criticism of the Modi government. One may well wonder why.

What is the motivation behind some MPs’ decision to donate their pay rise to fund his Wembley Stadium event?

If you look at the MPs who have donated their pay rises, they all have Gujarati Hindu constituents. One of the problems with Britain is that the government now categorises people according to their religious identities. So the assumption is that all Hindus will support Modi, or that all Muslims will be against him. While you can see where it’s coming from, it’s not always entirely true. In any case, their roles as MPs should be to bring information to their constituents, which will help them think more deeply about these issues, rather than treating them contemptuously as vote banks. Every single MP that has a sizeable Gujarati Hindu constituency is coming out in support of Modi, whether it’s Bob Blackman or Keith Vaz or Barry Gardiner. It’s quite shameful when you think that these are British MPs. If they want to make donations, they should be putting their money into food bank charities, or sending money to the people who have suffered as a result of the attacks in Gujarat and Muzaffarnagar. The large numbers of people who have been displaced from Muzaffarnagar are still in refugee camps. It would be better to help them than to spend money on what is an obscenely extravagant cultural event to welcome Modi. 

A protest is being organised by AwaazNetwork, which consists of a number of groups including South Asia Solidarity Group and others on Thursday, 12 November at 12 noon outside Downing Street. #ModiNotWelcome

Sheena Sumaria

Sheena Sumaria is a director and producer, known for the film Even the Crows: A Divided Gujarat (2014), Still Standing (2011) and others. She runs Guerrera films with Sonum Sumaria.