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‘Against Modi, Not India’: Meet the People Behind Protests Against PM's US Visit

Key organisers of various protests against PM Modi's US visit spoke to The Quint and revealed their motivations.

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“The issue here is Narendra Modi, not India. We all want India to be a partner, but the problem is Modi’s history and his actions,” one of the key organisers of the protests being held against the Indian Prime Minister's three-day visit to the United States told The Quint, under the condition of anonymity.

Ever since PM Modi officially announced his first State visit to the US, Indian and non-Indian rights groups in the country have planned protests over Modi's rule allegedly being “marred by human rights violations, suppression of dissent, and persecution of religious minorities, particularly Muslims and Christians.”

During his three-day State visit, Modi will hold talks with US President Joe Biden, participate in private and State dinners, and attend a luncheon jointly hosted by Vice President Kamala Harris and US Secretary of State Antony Blinken.

He is also expected to address a joint session of the US Congress and hold massive diaspora events. Earlier, Modi-led celebrations on International Day of Yoga at the UN Headquarters in New York.

"I am not protesting because I hate Hindus, or I hate South Asian people, or I hate brown people, but I hate the fascism, I hate the nationalism that is taking place, and since it is a religious nationalism, I believe it is making India more of a theocracy."
Activist and Key Protest figure Scott Webber told The Quint

Over the course of several phone calls with the key organisers of various protests, many of whom requested anonymity due to fear of threats, The Quint explored their motivation to protest PM Modi’s "landmark" visit to the US.

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The Motivation Behind Protests 

The protests against the Indian PM, be it during his current visit or during past foreign visits, have remained a subject of controversy. While Indian Foreign Secretary Vinay Kwatra played down the protests by highlighting the “positive interests” that India has with the US, the organisers of various demonstrations, both Indian and foreign, express discontent.

“The best way to put it is that Americans desperately want a relationship with India. We want to emerge from the Cold War mentality and really want this relationship to work. But it has to be on terms that we can live with. India’s democracy, being torn apart by Modi, are not terms that we can live with,” said another
An Indian-American organiser handling outreach and mobilisation told The Quint

Counter-narratives of foreign institutions trying to meddle in India’s “internal matters” are fairly common whenever the PM’s foreign visits receive a critical response. However, close to half of the protesters are from India, and most of them are Hindus.

“I am Indian. I am a Hindu. I am the PM’s vote bank but I cannot bear to see the brutal treatment of minority groups in India. If I was treated in the US how Muslims are [treated] in India, I would run back home without a thought. It is intolerable,” they added.

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A similar sentiment was imbibed in an open letter to Biden that was written by an organisation called Hindus for Human Rights, which urged him to “push back against the Indian government’s escalating attacks on human rights and democracy” during Modi’s visit.

The organisation’s policy director, Ria Chakrabarty, told The Quint:

“There is a lot of anger, especially in Washington and New York, since they are the places where the Biden administration is courting Modi.” She also alleged that PM Modi was using the International Yoga Day Celebrations at the UN for “om-washing” – her spin on “whitewashing.”

Chakrabarty explained that cultural Hinduism – through activities like yoga, meditation, and mindfulness – has a great deal of “soft power” in the West, with thousands of fans and adherents, and that Modi was “taking advantage of that soft power.”

“It’s really just creating cultural soft power for him to go back to India and say, ‘Look … I’m this person who has put Hinduism on the world stage,’ even though what he’s really done is put Hindu nationalism on the world stage,” she opined.

Why are Americans Protesting an Indian PM’s visit?

An American activist and protest coordinator based out of New York spoke to The Quint under the condition of anonymity and said, “What we are discovering as Americans, is that we are being sold false goods."

“Minority persecution, clamping down on the press, high levels of hyper-nationalism and jingoism – all of these are signs of a democracy that has not come to fruition,” they added.

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Organisers also expressed their discontent with the fact that the Biden administration “has only had private two-way conversations about how both of our governments can always improve," despite questions being raised on human rights violations.

“We find it unacceptable to see such equivocation on Indian democracy from an administration that has been strident in its defence of American democracy and the rule of law,” an organiser further said.

However, those protesting against the PM find themselves facing opposition, not only from pro-Modi rallies across New York and Washington but also from within the coalition of organisers.

On a phone call with The Quint, one of the coalition's media personnel said:

"Of course, even groups that are against PM Modi's visit have nuances in their ideology.

Some have decided to go all out and make noise with their protests, which is the 'old-school' approach. Others are trying to educate and spread awareness," they added.

During a phone call with The Quint, activist Scott Webber claimed that a number of Americans from prominent circles, who used to attend Modi's events, have stopped associating themselves with the Indian PM.

Webber said this was proof that America was “opening its eyes to reality of who Narendra Modi is and the organisations he represents.”

“The pro-Modi efforts were nowhere near as large as the crowds who came to see him at Madison Square Garden or the ‘Howdy Modi’ event, and that is because people are now onto what Modi is up to in India.”

Webber also rejected the argument that Modi’s visit and the claims made against his government does not concern the US. “When you can be thrown in jail for sedition for speaking out against the BJP, as an American it is my concern when the US conducts any type of business with such a government and its representatives," he said.

Moreover, a member of the coalition said, "Frankly speaking, (about groups organising pro-Modi rallies), they are largely direct immigrants, instead of second generation immigrants. It is the old mindset, the same one that perpetuate the issues that plague India."

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The Plan

Approximately 18 organisations spanning different nationalities and religious backgrounds have come together to form a diverse coalition which plans to organise a series of protests, rallies, educational teach-ins, gatherings, and talks.

Some of the participating organisations include the Indian American Muslim Council, Peace Action, Veterans for Peace, and Bethesda African Cemetery Coalition.

On Day 3 of Modi's visit to the US and his scheduled meeting with President Biden, several groups plan to gather near the White House. Additionally, another event has been planned in New York, featuring a play called "Howdy Democracy", which seems to be a clever take on the name of the 2019 "Howdy Modi!" rally in Texas, where Modi and former US President Donald Trump had appeared together.

The play reportedly looks to engage audiences and foster discussions surrounding democracy.

Furthermore, prominent organisations such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch also plan to screen a BBC documentary that examines Modi's alleged role as the chief minister of Gujarat during the 2002 riots, highlighting concerns related to human rights and religious freedom.

Besides the protests organised by rights groups across ideological lines, Modi's visit has also faced resistance from more than 60 US lawmakers who wrote a letter urging President Biden to raise human rights issues with Modi.

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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Topics:  Narendra Modi in US 

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