Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi arrives in Canada today for a three-day state visit. Thousands are expected to turn out to hear him in Ottawa, Toronto and Vancouver. As the Harper government prepares to roll out the red carpet and talk business with Modi, it’s worth revisiting his blood-stained record and looking more closely at the economic interests behind this new “special relationship.”
Not long ago, before he was the prime minister of the “world’s biggest democracy,” Narendra Modi was refused entry to several Western countries, including the United States and Britain, for his role in facilitating the 2002 anti-Muslim riots in his home state, which left a thousand people dead. Back when he was chief minister of the state of Gujarat, the evidence of his crimes was strong enough that two countries normally friendly toward India banned an Indian politician from crossing their borders.
Fast forward to 2015 and notice the about-face: from blacklisted for taking part in the most heinous of anti-Muslim pogroms to a superstar politician who receives red-carpet welcomes everywhere he lands. Such is the transformation of a man who is on record saying that killing Muslims was like accidentally running over a puppy with a car — you feel sad for a bit but then you get on with it.
The West has also gotten on with it. Countries like the United Kingdom and the United States might have felt sad for a little while but now it’s time to get down to business.
India is, after all, a massive consumer market yet to be fully tapped by Western companies. It has minerals and mines to be extracted and exploited. It requires civic and industrial infrastructure on a large scale, and also has growing military needs. All eyes are on the man who holds the keys to the treasure that is India.
In France, Modi was just honoured as a guest of state, with the stage set for him to sign a deal that sees India buy 32 Raphael fighter jets from the république. France, a supposed champion of secularism, had little to say about the Hindu ideology of Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party and the threat to Indian secularism that it poses.
In Germany, Modi was given a welcome worthy of a Bollywood star. One wonders what the German public has to say about the fact that Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, the Hindu nationalist social movement that is the heart and soul of Modi’s party, was inspired by European fascism and openly praises Hitler and Mussolini.
When Modi arrives in Canada today, he will talk to his Canadian counterpart about nuclear energy and a deal to sell Cameco Corp. uranium to India. Stephen Harper is not expected to raise any hue and cry over India’s nuclear program the same way he does about Iran’s. Nor is the Canadian prime minister likely to say much about Hindu nationalism, even though he has much to say about “political Islam.”
Harper’s selective criticism reflects Canadian priorities. While Harper is hawkish toward Iran and Palestine, his foreign minister gladly engages in photo-ops in a Tim Hortons in Dubai with the rulers of the emirates. Canada is an important supplier of arms to several Gulf countries, and criticism of those countries is rather muted. The same goes for India: when it comes to business, issues of human rights violations are cast aside.
Modi is popular with the United States too. President Obama was received in Delhi with much aplomb. The encounter was dubbed as a meeting between the “world’s oldest democracy” and the “world’s biggest democracy.” However, Modi is in many ways an antithesis to the ideals of the Indian republic as imagined by its founding fathers Jawaharlal Nehru and Mohandas Gandhi. A member of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh killed Gandhi, and Modi’s ascension to prime minister is nothing short of the completion of Hindu nationalists’ revenge on modern India.
Modi in India, Netanyahu in Israel, ISIS in Iraq and Syria, Marine Le Pen in France, and the Republicans in the United States — these are the dark horizons of humanity. And with the kind of reception the likes of Modi and Netanyahu receive in Canada, it looks like our leaders are content in leading the world in that direction.