The India Cables

‘Gujarat tried to use SEWA for communal propaganda'

Narendra Modi's Bharatiya Janata Party Government in Gujarat tried to use the Self-Employed Women's Association (SEWA), the respected Ahmedabad-based non-governmental organisation, as a “conduit to disseminate communal ideologies”; and when the group resisted there were attempts to “obstruct” its work by withholding grants, “ostensibly over financial irregularities.”

This is revealed in a United States diplomatic cable accessed by The Hindu through WikiLeaks.

The cable ( > 41091: unclassified), sent by the U.S. Consul General (CG) in Mumbai, Michael S. Owen, on September 22, 2005, quoted SEWA general secretary Reemaben Nanawati as telling him that the organisation was facing the “wrath” of the State government for “resisting” pressure.

Mr. Owen wrote: “The general secretary of SEWA, a large and well-respected union and self-help organization for poor women, claimed that the GOG [Government of Gujarat] was hoping to use the group's reach and extensive membership as a conduit to disseminate communal ideologies. SEWA was resisting fiercely, the CG was told, and feeling the wrath of the GOG as a result.”

The State government, Ms. Nanawati alleged, was being “vindictive” and “obstructing” SEWA's activities in the Kutch region.

‘Withheld grants'

“The GOG was withholding grants for state projects being implemented by SEWA in the (Kutch) region, she said, ostensibly over financial irregularities…SEWA was resisting…since communal harmony among its members was an important factor for its success, she said. The resistance was making the GOG more vindictive and causing it to step up its pressure on the organization, she added. Due to lack of funds, over 12,000 extremely poor SEWA members have not received wages for over five months, Nanawati claimed,” Mr Owen said.

Ms. Nanawati said the State government was trying to project an air of “normality” after the 2002 communal killings, but “politically” it was still pursuing a “divide and rule” agenda: a claim, Mr. Owen wrote, he heard from a number of Muslim and Christian activists he met.

Mr. Owen's own take on the situation in Gujarat was: “peaceful on the surface, yet state government continues its policies of communalization.”

“In the longer term,” he added, “the state government's clearly visible attempts to marginalize the Muslim minority and its discreet attempts to further communalize public life can only increase the risk of heightened tensions and renewed bloodshed in a state with a history of communal rioting.”

Gujarat Chief Secretary Sudhir Mankad “lost his patience” when asked how many people had been convicted for their role in the 2002 riots, Mr. Owen wrote.

‘Why the obsession?'

“He asked the CG why the U.S. was ‘so obsessed' with the riots. ‘You always express concern about the riots, but look what else is happening in the world,' Mankad complained…Reps of other diplomatic missions visited Gujarat to discuss the economy, education or cultural issues. The U.S. was always different. ‘When I saw your schedule I asked myself why you need to talk to all these groups', he said, referring to the CG's NGO interlocutors…,” Mr. Owen wrote, adding that he “underlined the importance the USG attached to human rights, and said we would continue to follow this issue closely.”

(This article is a part of the series "The India Cables" based on the US diplomatic cables accessed by The Hindu via Wikileaks.)

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Printable version | Sep 26, 2021 5:20:37 AM |

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