87085: Consul General meets Modi

Ironically the man most hold accountable for the communal violence of 2002 may now be the most ardent defender of communal harmony, at least on the surface.

March 22, 2011 03:42 am | Updated November 17, 2021 03:56 am IST




E.O. 12958: DECL: 11/27/2016 TAGS: PGOV, PREL, PHUM, CVIS, KISL, IN


REF: A) MUMBAI 1986; B) MUMBAI 1719

CLASSIFIED BY: Michael S. Owen, Consul General, Mumbai, State. REASON: 1.4 (b), (d)

1. (C) Summary: Consul General met on November 16 with Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi, the first such meeting since Modi's U.S. visa was revoked in 2005. Modi provided a glowing overview of his accomplishments in office, including better roads, universal access to electric power, greater availability of water, burgeoning direct investment, and rapid economic growth. Consul General acknowledged progress in many areas, but queried the CM on communal relations in general, and efforts to hold accountable those officials responsible for the violence of 2002 in particular. A visibly annoyed Modi launched a spirited defense consisting of accusations of USG meddling, attacks on US human rights abuses in Abu Ghraib and elsewhere, and allegations that Muslims were better off in Gujarat than anywhere else in India. A half-hour of give and take on the issue yielded little additional information from Modi, except for an acknowledgement that he understood human rights issues are important to the USG. Other Gujarat observers claimed Modi aspires to a national BJP leadership role, and ironically, these aspirations may motivate him to assure there are no further communal disturbances in Gujarat. End summary.

2. (U) Consul General met on November 16 with Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi at his Gandhinagar office. This was the first such meeting since the March 2005 revocation of Modi's U.S. visa because of his role in the 2002 communal violence in Gujarat. Print and broadcast media were present at the beginning of the meeting, but departed within five minutes.

3. (C) A relaxed Modi began with a glowing overview of his Government's achievements in building infrastructure and promoting economic growth in Gujarat. Modi said that several canal, dam, and water management projects had rendered water shortages ""a thing of the past,"" and had greatly boosted agricultural productivity. Similarly, extensive investments in power generation and transmission had now brought electricity to every village in Gujarat, an achievement recently highlighted during President Abdul Kalam's visit to Gujarat. The road network was steadily improving, he said, and huge investments were underway in ports and petroleum, including a doubling of the massive Reliance refinery at Jamnagar. Economic growth in the state was well above the national average, he said, and he welcomed U.S. companies to invest in Gujarat.

4. (C) Consul General noted that he had in recent days received similar upbeat assessments from members of the Rajkot and Ahmedabad Chambers of Commerce. The economy is clearly booming, and Consulate General Mumbai notices in particular the significant number of American investors interested in Gujarat, and the continuing flow of Gujarati business people to the U.S. Consul General noted that we intend to send a consulate representative to the ""Vibrant Gujarat"" foreign investment conference to be held in Ahmedabad in January 2007. He also expressed our happiness with the large number of Gujarati students who travel every year for university study in the U.S., and hoped that trend would continue.

5. (C) Consul General said that while we are very pleased with our business and people to people relations with Gujarat, we remain concerned about communal relations within the state. In particular, we remain concerned that nobody has yet been held accountable for the horrific communal violence of 2002, and are further concerned that an atmosphere of impunity could lead to a further deterioration of communal relations. What is the Government of Gujarat's view on this, he asked.

6. (C) A visibly annoyed Modi responded at some considerable length, but with three essential points:

a. the events of 2002 were an internal Gujarati matter and the U.S. had no right to interfere;

b. the U.S. is itself guilty of horrific human rights violations (he specified Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo, and attacks on Sikhs in the U.S. after September 11) and thus has no moral basis to speak on such matters, and;

MUMBAI 00002027 002 OF 003

c. Muslims are demonstrably better off in Gujarat than in any other state in India, so what is everybody griping about?

7. (C) Consul General responded that it is not only the U.S. that is concerned with this issue. The Indian National Human Rights Commission report itself cited ""a comprehensive failure on the part of the state Government"" to prevent the violence of 2002. We are reflecting a broad cross section of opinion that no one has been held accountable for the violence and that consequently a climate of impunity is developing. Secondly, Abu Ghraib is precisely the point: Americans can also commit human rights violations but when they do we have a clear procedure to investigate, prosecute, and punish those guilty of wrongdoing. This is what we and others would like to see in Gujarat.

8. (C) Modi grumbled that the Indian National Human Rights Commission was biased and its reports wildly inaccurate. More broadly, he claimed, the U.S. relied far too much on ""a few fringe NGOs"" that don't know the real picture and have an axe to grind. In any event, if officials are guilty of wrongdoing, then it is up to the courts to prosecute and punish them, and the Chief Minister could not interfere with the judicial process. Consul General said it had now been well over four years since the violence of early 2002 and nobody has been sanctioned; this gives little confidence that anyone would ultimately be held accountable. Modi noted (accurately, alas) that the culprits in the 1993 Mumbai bombings are only now being sentenced, so we should not have ""unrealistic expectations.""

9. (C) Consul General queried if there was in fact an active investigation of the Gujarat violence still underway. Modi was evasive and backtracked to his claim that Muslims in Gujarat are better off than in any other state in India. He noted that the BJP had won big victories in recent local bodies elections in Muslim districts, and that a recent study had found literacy among Muslims was higher in Gujarat than in any other state. The 2002 violence had involved a ""few miscreants"" and had been blown out of proportion by ""fringe elements,"" he said. Communal relations in Gujarat are now excellent, he claimed.

10. (C) Consul General said we readily acknowledge the many positive accomplishments of his Government, including economic growth and education. These are to be applauded, but do not diminish in any way the importance of holding accountable those persons who are guilty of inciting or carrying out communal violence. Consul General reiterated that failure to do so will create an atmosphere of impunity in which radical elements would feel emboldened in the future. He concluded by underlining that the U.S. Government considers human rights and religious freedom to be extremely important, and we will continue to monitor developments and engage his Government in these areas.

11. (C) Modi responded that he understands human rights and religious freedom are important to the U.S. because ""you people keep raising these issues all the time."" He concluded by saying, with a touch of irony, that he hoped Consul General would return to Gujarat on a regular basis. ""All Americans are always welcome in my state,"" he said.

12. (C) Other interlocutors in Gujarat also waxed enthusiastically about the tangible accomplishments of Modi's Government. Rajkot BJP MP Vallabh Kathiria beamed as he provided a seemingly interminable list of dams built, canals dredged, irrigation pumps installed, roads paved, and power lines extended. Consul General asked about the violence of 2002 and whether anyone would be held accountable, but Kathiria said ""these are things of the past and we need to move on."" He claimed that the events of 2002 were a few horrific but isolated incidents, and that communal relations are now excellent. Consul General asked if there was an ongoing investigation into the 2002 violence, but Kathiria swerved again into the safety of more highways widened and schools constructed. Asked whether he believed CM Modi had aspirations to be a national BJP leader, Kathiria responded with a broad smile and vigorous head waggle.

13. (C) Rajkot Congress party leader Manoharsinh Jadeja said ""Modi's accomplishments are undeniable,"" and admitted that the Congress would make little headway against the BJP in Gujarat anytime soon. Modi is extremely popular, Jadeja said, and even Muslims are now supporting him to some extent because he is viewed as someone who is completely incorruptible and can deliver the goods. Consul General asked if Modi could become a national BJP leader, and Jadeja said he hoped so because as long

MUMBAI 00002027 003 OF 003

as he was the CM in Gujarat, Congress would face a tough challenge.

14. (C) Consul General met at length with longtime former Congress party MP and former Minister of Environment Yuraj Digvijay Sinhji. Asked whether Modi could become a national leader, Sinhji (himself the scion of the princely Wankaner family and a Cambridge grad) sniffed that Modi ""lacks the polish and refinement"" to become a national leader. But Sinhji raised another reason why Modi could face challenges in becoming a national leader: Modi's reputation for being completely incorruptible is accurate, and if he were to become a national leader he would crack down on corruption throughout the BJP. There are too many BJP rank and file waiting to line their pockets once the BJP returns to power, Sinhji said, and the prospect of Modi cracking the whip on corruption is entirely unappealing to this crowd. Modi would have a hard time clearing this hurdle, according to Sinhji.

15. (C) Sinhji raised an interesting point on communal harmony in Gujarat. The fact that Modi clearly has aspirations for national leadership makes him, ironically, one of the greatest protectors of communal harmony at this stage. Modi knows that another outbreak like 2002 would doom his chances, so he is going to be particularly zealous to ensure there are no further problems on his watch. Sinhji thought it unlikely that anyone would ever be brought to book for the 2002 violence as long as the BJP controls the Gujarat Government, but at the same time he expected communal harmony to improve as the GOG keeps a careful eye out to ensure there are no further provocations or violence.

16. (C) Comment: Modi is clearly not going to apologize or back down on the violence of 2002, but we think it is vital for him to hear that we are not going to let the passage of time erase the memory of these events. Depite the chilly atmosphere of the meeting, Modi did take on board the message that human rights and religious freedom are important issues that we will continue to monitor carefully. We believe Sinhji's comments on Modi are indeed accurate: ironically the man most hold accountable for the communal violence of 2002 may now be the most ardent defender of communal harmony, at least on the surface. It remains to be seen to what extent Gujarat's economic boom will lead to genuinely improved communal relations over time. End Comment.


Top News Today


Comments have to be in English, and in full sentences. They cannot be abusive or personal. Please abide by our community guidelines for posting your comments.

We have migrated to a new commenting platform. If you are already a registered user of The Hindu and logged in, you may continue to engage with our articles. If you do not have an account please register and login to post comments. Users can access their older comments by logging into their accounts on Vuukle.