Last Sunday some of the tabloids led with a story about Keith Vaz, the Labour MP for Leicester East, paying male prostitutes, asking them to bring ‘poppers’ and offering to cover the cost of cocaine. As a result of this he has resigned from his chairmanship of the Home Affairs select committee, a position he has held since 2007. On blogs and social media there has been widespread condemnation of the story for being an intrusion into his private life and for the ‘whorephobic’ judgement against his use of ‘sex workers’ and their occupation. Some feminists have countered that his role on the select committee included overseeing an inquiry into how the law on prostitution should be reformed; an interim report recommended that soliciting and brothel-keeping be decriminalised. I believe his downfall should have come sooner, and that there is an element of hypocrisy in this issue also.
A little over two weeks ago, I heard Vaz on BBC London (available for the next 12 days) talking about how social media and other online hosting companies like Facebook, YouTube, Twitter etc should do their bit to “root out” terrorist radicalisation, and should ensure that any time a video that encourages support for terrorism or “radicalism” appears on their site, it should disappear immediately. This demand presents obvious difficulties; it would require YouTube to watch every video, or at least every video uploaded to any supposedly suspicious account, and even then, new accounts are easily set up and can be notified to the intended audience through forums over which YouTube has no control. However, Vaz is no stranger to radicalisation, as he attended and helped to finance an event at which the star attraction was a political extremist from a movement which is associated with mob violence and mass murder. That man is Narendra Modi, the prime minister of India and former chief minister of the state of Gujarat.
A reminder: in February 2002, with Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in power in Gujarat, in response to a fire on a train in which 59 people, mostly Hindu pilgrims coming back from the disputed temple in Ayodhya (the one for which a Hindu mob destroyed a mosque in 1992), were killed, there were three days of violence in which, according to official figures, 790 Muslims and 250 Hindus died; there have been estimates of the Muslim death toll that are up to 2,500, however. The violence continued sporadically for months afterwards and targeted Muslim women and children in particular, with hundreds being raped and/or burned to death. Muslim homes and businesses were targeted in a way that indicates they must have had state help, as they included businesses with names suggestive of Hindu ownership. There was widespread destruction of mosques and Muslim shrines; 230 mosques and 274 dargahs are thought to have been destroyed.
Although Modi has never been charged with involvement in the massacre, it is widely acknowledged that there was state complicity and also that there was involvement by members of the government in fanning the flames of violence. Modi himself had proclaimed that the fire on the train had been an act of terrorism rather than communal violence; local newspapers and members of the government had claimed that it was carried out by the Pakistani intelligence services with local Muslim complicity, and also that Muslims had kidnapped and raped Hindu women. A senior local police officer made a sworn statement that Modi, during a meeting the night before the riots, had said that Hindus should be allowed to vent their anger and that the Muslims needed to be taught a lesson; a Gujarat government spokesman, Bharat Pandya, “told the BBC that the rioting was a spontaneous Hindu backlash fuelled by widespread anger against Muslims”, such as in Kashmir and “other parts of India”. In December 2002, there were elections in which BJP candidates won in all the constitutencies affected by the riots, including some implicated in the violence, and their election won them immunity from prosecution.
In the years following the riots when Modi was still governor of Gujarat, he was prevented from travelling to a number of countries, including the UK and the USA, until 2012 because of suspicions over his involvement in the violence. Following his election as prime minister of India in 2014, it seems his record has been forgotten as economics trumps human rights. For example, Sky News made the following remarks last November, just before his visit:
Mr Modi was the was the chief minister of the progressive state of Gujarat for 13 years.
But his term was marred by one of the worst communal riots - in 2002 more than a 1,000 people were killed - mainly Muslims.
Tens of thousands more were made homeless.
Mr Modi is criticised for not doing enough to prevent the pogrom and although he has not been indicted by any court his role is furiously debated.
Gujarat is a ‘progressive state’ in the sense that it has followed free-market orthodoxy rather than the state capitalism that dominated India’s politics until the 1980s. This term really doesn’t mean much; in the past it meant building industry and infrastructure rather than reinforcing human rights and equality (some segregationist leaders in the Deep South in the mid-20th century were progressives in that sense). There has been widespread discrimination against Muslims in Gujarat in the years since the riots, starting with the firing of thousands of Muslims after the riots and the boycotts against those who tried to return home. Muslim neighbourhoods have been designated “disrupted areas” and denied amenities and subject to harsher policing; there are documented incidents of local police referring to Muslim neighbourhoods as Pakistan and claiming that Muslims “identify themselves as residents of Pakistan”. As of 2014, tens of thousands of Muslims displaced by the riots were still living in “relief colonies”, i.e. refugee camps. Gujarat is India’s equivalent of Mississippi or Alabama and Modi is its George Wallace, Theodore Bilbo or Strom Thurmond.
This man held a rally at Wembley Stadium in November 2015 (technically: “the Europe India Forum (EIF) [hosted] a reception in honour of Prime Minister Modi at Wembley Stadium connected by EE on Friday 13 November 2015”). There was a crowd of 60,157 and Modi was introduced by then PM David Cameron, whose wife Samantha was dressed in a scarlet sari; the programme contained an introduction by Lance Price, a former speechwriter to Tony Blair, which according to the Telegraph likened Modi’s “superstar quality” to that of Nelson Mandela, Bill Clinton and Blair himself. Keith Vaz, a Labour MP, was also in attendance, and boasted in an article for the Guardian that he was “proud to contribute [his] pay rise for the month of November” to help finance the event, including to help people to attend as “it is important that nobody should miss out”. His article did not mention the 2002 pogroms once. (The Guardian also printed a an article by Aditya Chakraborty opposing the visit.)
Most self-respecting British mainstream politicians would not even consider sharing a platform with a foreign politician with a strong link to political or communal violence, to fascism and to hatred. Many ordinary Muslims would not dare attend, yet tens of thousands of Hindus board coaches from all over the country to hear this Nazi and still have their jobs and freedom. There would be widespread condemnation if any MP had boasted of helping to bring the likes of David Duke or the Hamas leaders in Gaza to this country or of financing their rally. More to the point, the venue might well refuse their custom, as Muslim organisations that tried to book such things as halal days at popular tourist resorts have discovered. I appreciate that we have economic ties with India that we cannot afford to simply break, but to enthusiastically endorse a politician on whose watch hundreds or thousands of people were murdered and raped and had their businesses, homes and places of worship destroyed is taking realpolitik too far, to put it mildly. Just meet him in Downing Street and talk business.
Vaz demanded that Internet companies root out radicalisation, by which he meant Muslim radicalisation, yet he rides the wave of Hindu extremism, no doubt among thousands of his constituents, and says nothing about the major sporting venue that hosted him and were paid for it. Modi is part of a movement that is violent, fascist and totalitarian and uses mob violence targeted at civilians, actions every bit as heinous as those of the “Islamic State” in Iraq and Syria, even if he manages to remain at arm’s length from the ‘action’. It will take only one real or imagined provocation from Muslims to provoke another, much more serious wave of violence as his government now rules India, not just one state, and the adulation of British politicians gives him credibility. It is therefore with some satisfaction that I witness the downfall of Keith Vaz. If hobnobbing with fascists was enough to bring down a politician, nobody would have cared about his carrying on with male escorts.
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