The headline on Zee News at 5:09pm today read: “America opens its gates for ‘very dynamic’ Narendra Modi.”
The Business Standard in an article posted a few minutes earlier, at 4:57pm, wrote: “After UK, now US softens stand on Modi.”
Indeed three members of the US Congress, along with a few US business leaders, did meet with the Gujarat Chief Minister today in Gujarat. But should we infer any shift in US policy towards Narendra Modi? In short, no.
From 2009 to 2011, I worked in the US House of Representatives as a senior foreign policy aide where I often organized the overseas trips for a member of Congress. The Congressional calendar is divided broadly in two categories: days when there are votes on the House floor and recess days—which members of Congress can spend in their home districts, or at political fundraisers in other parts of the US, or in countries they deem relevant to their legislative work and/or constituents. Each of these trips have to be approved by the House, especially where public funds are used.
When a member of the US Congress travels abroad, he/she travels as an official of the United States and carries a US diplomatic passport. But does this person represent the views of the United States? Most often not.
Consider this: in June 2011, (now former) Congressman Dennis Kucinich, a Democrat, made a highly controversial and criticized trip to Syria where he met with met with disgraced Syrian president Bashar al-Assad. The US State Department distanced itself from Kucinich by saying that “(Kucinich) did not ask to be accompanied on his meetings, nor has he given us a debrief, nor was he carrying any administration messages.”
The State Department was, in effect, re-iterating a point that both Democratic and Republic administrations have long held: we the State Department set foreign policy, not members of the US House of Representatives.
In fact members of the US Congress do not even have to follow US policy while traveling broad. In 2009, for example, two members of the US Congress visited war torn Gaza to survey the damage caused by the US funded Israeli blockade. Their visit went against the US government’s policy of not sending any of its officials to Hamas ruled Gaza.
But here again is the point: members of Congress are free to do as they like, within the House Ethics parameters and US law, because they do not represent the ruling administration.
Let us then examine the delegation who met Modi, led by Congressman Aaron Schock (Republic-Illinois), Congresswoman Cynthia Lummis (Republican-Wyoming) and Congresswoman Cathy M Rodgers (Republican-Washington state).
If the US is signalling a change in its policy towards Modi, it would send a representative of the Obama administration—likely a State Department official—to meet with Modi, not three junior Republican members of the House of Representatives, a body that plays third fiddle in the hierarchy of US foreign policy behind the Administration and the US Senate.
The visit by the junior lawmakers should not be read for something it is not: a sign that the US government has changed its views on Modi. Ultimately if the US is to grant a visa to Modi, this policy shift would have to come from the White House itself, in accordance with a rethinking of how the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998 can be re-examined to permit Modi’s entry. As of yet, the White House has not given any indication of a shift in its policy.
That said, the visit and Schock and his group remains significant because it shows that more US lawmakers are willing to meet with Modi, despite the US State Department’s ban on Modi for his role in the 2002 Gujarat riots. Schock’s visit is also interesting for another reason: it shows the strange bedfellows Modi supporters are making in the US, many of whom are far right of centre.
When Modi won a third term, it was Schock who stood up on the House Floor to praise Modi. But today Modi might not want to be seen too close to him: Schock faces a House Ethics Investigation for misuse of funds. According to his home state paper, the Chicago Tribune, a Congressional investigatory panel voted 6-0 to investigate Schock on the grounds that “there is substantial reason to believe that Rep. Schock violated federal law, House rules and standards of conduct.” At the heart of the issue is whether Schock solicited donations of over $5,000 for his political action committee in violation of US campaign laws.
Schock is not the only scandal prone member of Congress to support Modi. In the last Congress, the most vocal supporter of Modi was disgraced Congressman Joe Walsh (Republican—Illinois).
Walsh’s two years in Congress were marked by revelations that he owes $117,000 USD in child support. Likewise his policy positions earned him criticism from even his own support base. Walsh is skeptical of global warming, for example, and has said the science on the issue is “not definitive.” When asked about securing America’s borders, Walsh said the US should install medieval style moats with alligators at the US-Mexico border. When a Chicago mosque was shot at in August 2012 with a pellet gun, Walsh stood at a spot just 15 miles away from the mosque and said radical Muslims are “trying to kill Americans every week.”
Last year, Walsh wrote a letter to then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to grant Modi a visa for his work in “establishing Gujarat as the most business-friendly state in India.” He added in the letter that “(Modi) is widely believed to be a serious contender for the 2014 election for Indian Prime Minister.” (The State Department responded by saying there was no change in official US policy towards Modi.)
Supporting Walsh was the Indian Americans For Freedom, a group whose goal is “individual liberty, free enterprise, freedom from bureaucrat ‘babus.’” On the top of the website the IAFF lists its two inspirations as Ronald Reagan and John F. Kennedy and the website includes a collection of videos, including one entitled “Joe Walsh will always tell you the Truth. Radical Islam is a threat to All!!” One of the videos on their website makes an allegation that Tammy Duckworth, a disabled US war veteran who eventually defeated Walsh in the election, is a supporter of the US terror listed group HAMAS.
But those who think Walsh was defeated because of his support of Modi are being too generous to Modi’s opponents. It was Walsh’s own incompetence, coupled with the videos of him yelling at his own female voters, that convinced his own base to turn on him.
Indeed after Walsh’s loss, even supporters of Walsh tried to save face. Dr. Bharat Berai (who recently met with Modi as part of a Jewish delegation) said, “Walsh’s opposition was against radicals in the Islamic community. His loss in the election has nothing to do with his stand on Chief Minister Modi’s visa.”
What is fascinating about today’s meeting with Modi is that the Congressional delegation was joined by the National Indian American Public Policy Institute, a group whose founder’s page is a direct copy and paste from the Indian Americans for Freedom (IAFF). The National Indian American Public Policy Institute might be different from the IAFF, the group that accused Walsh’s challenger of being a HAMAS supporter, but from the looks of the two websites, there appears to be overlap in the organizations’ leadership.
Either way, neither of these groups seemed skilled in policy advocacy or effective messaging.
So what then does today’s meeting with Modi mean? It is too early to tell. Will other, more respected (and more ranking) members of Congress also follow suit, especially from Obama’s Democratic party? If so, then perhaps we could be witnessing a strong push on the US State Department to lift the US visa ban on Modi.
As of now, Modi’s supporter in the US have attracted mostly fringe elements of the US political establishment.
Which begs the question: if Modi’s supporters in the US want to reshape Modi’s image, why then align with a candidate like Walsh who represents all the qualities—intolerance, misogyny, fiscal irresponsibility—that Modi is trying to distance himself from?
Zahir Janmohamed is based in Juhapura in Ahmedabad.
@ Pankaj. Absolutely agree with you that it is absolutely wrong to say that things were better in the past than in the present. Some things like human rights have got much better and some things like the environment have gone worse.
Industrialisation has led to creation of wealth and to better lifestyles for a condiserable section of society yet we have not been able to eradicate poverty. Mankind has to confront unique and different sets of challenges all the time, be it the stonge age or the space age. Religion provides the spiritual sustenance and inspiration needed to overcome these problems. A conflict based on religion is something that can and must be avoided at all times.
I agree with most of the points. But I refuse to look back and say everything was good then and is bad now. Thanks Narayan for your thoughts.
"What was the Pinnacle? What is the Abyss?"....#89
There is no single high or single low.
Ethics and morals depend on the context. Caste system was okay as long as it was not hereditary but based on merit, a scientific division of labour. Women can get truly empowered when we live in an era where knowledge is might. For hunter-gatherers living in a state of constant conflict, women will always be subservient to men because brawn is more important than brawn.
Historically speaking, Hinduism reached its pinnacle at different times and different places. Think of the Mauryas, the Guptas, the Pallavas, the Cambodians (Angkor Wat), etc. Philosophically speaking, it reached its pinnacle during the Vedic Age when the Upanishads were composed and when the Adi Shankaracharya re-ignited the Hindu spirit. Hinduism plumbed the depths during the medieval period when caste became hereditary, when women lost their traditional freedoms, when the practice of untouchability became widespread, when orthodoxy made the religion rigid and incapable of reform in spite of the great Bhakti movement led by sages like Tukaram, Krishna Chaitanya, Kabirdas, Tulasidas and several others too numerous to mention.
However, I shall reiterate that the basic tenets of Hinduism such as Dharma and Karma are highly evolved and there is no scope for going beyond them. Even the Jainas and Buddhists accept these concepts. What is needed is periodic reforms to purge out the evils that inevitably creep in over a period of time.
>> Are the Hindutva terrorists your "fellow-colleagues"?" -
>> i was referring to CAIR.
That is exactly why I called your comment moronic. I am not on the staff of CAIR, so to call some idiotic CAIR member waging Jihad in Kashmir my "colleague" is moronic. I am a member like thousands of American Muslims who support CAIR's civil rights advocacy. Members include many Muslims who are prominent in American public life as well as in academia. CAIR's success has elicited intense efforts at defamation by American Zionists from whom our Sanghi friends have started taking inspiration! Any anti-Muslim hate prachaar is good enough for Hindutvawadis to join in!
Post # 79,
What was the Pinnacle? What is the Abyss?
I remember Catse System to be existing for at least 2000 years! I remeber we had no LIMIT on the number of wives a man can take (Till Hindu Marraige act came in 1950s)! I remember Woman never had Inheritence rights (remember rani of Jhansi and her ADOPTED Son)! I remember Women never had the power to Divorce (She had power to select in form of swayamwar but never the power to LEAVE the selected one). I remeber Sati was alwyas there (Mahabharat 5000 years back??)
Hindus could IMRPOVE on their traditions BECAUSE they are always open to Good Traditions from other religions.
I would say that tolerance of Charawaks, Chandals et el was quite a positive aspect even 3000 to 2000years back (Chanakya's Historical references are at least 2000 years old). References to Ram Drinking Wine Alongwith Sita in Valmiki's Ramayan,beef consumption in Vedas and death of Buddha due to eating of contaminated pork are all evolving habits of Normal Human Beings...Like a hard core non-veg guy turns veg when attached by bad Cholestrol/ Diabetes etc..
I only hope that Hindus continue to evolve! Let us not be be Rigid Hindutvawadis who take pride in beating up women at Bars
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