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Vaghela swims against Delhi tide
- leader pampers u.s. panel pushing india into religious doghouse

Washington, Oct. 23: With leaders like Gujarat’s Shankersinh Vaghela, Indian diplomats in Washington don’t need enemies.

Three weeks after New Delhi rubbished a recommendation by the US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) asking the state department to declare India as a “country of particular concern” (CPC) on account of the recent events in Gujarat, Vaghela told a press conference here yesterday that he would invite members of the Commission to visit India if he is in power.

The Indian government has not responded to repeated requests by the panel to allow it to go to India to examine religious freedom and New Delhi’s diplomats here have been lobbying overtime to prevent their country from being designated as a CPC.

Such a designation would be somewhat equivalent to being named as a “terrorist state” and would subject India to potential sanctions by the US.

A spokesperson of the ministry of external affairs had virtually dubbed the commission as irrelevant and said about its findings that “reports of this nature are not expected to influence the positive trends in India and United States relations...Nowhere in the international community has India’s secular credentials been questioned and our capacity to deal with aberrations of the nature that we witnessed a few months ago...is recognised by the international community”.

Vaghela sought to limit the damage as an after-thought and added a rider that he would ask his “friends”, who have been hosting him here to accompany USCIRF members when they visit India.

Vaghela’s hosts here include leaders of a Christian coalition, which has been highlighting violence against minorities in Gujarat since the attacks on churches in 1998, the Policy Institute for Religion and State and a nascent body, Friends of Gujarat.

He is accompanied on the trip by Naresh Raval, AICC secretary, Narhari Amin, former deputy chief minister of Gujarat, Girish Dani, GPCC vice president and Badruddin Sheikh, chairman of the Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation, according to a GPCC press release.

Vaghela alleged that deputy Prime Minister L.K. Advani knew about an impending attack on temples in Gujarat and did not take preventive or pre-emptive action.

He said Advani had spoken at a press conference that the intention of terrorists who were killed at the Swaminarayan temple was to take hostages to demand the release of terrorists from Indian jails as well as to seek a postponement of Kashmir elections.

He raised question marks about the BJP’s intentions in not acting on these warnings and preventing the attack on Akshardham. “They want to create a second Kashmir in Gujarat.”

Vaghela’s allegation is certain to create a cloud in American minds about India’s ability and objectives in fighting terrorism at a time when Delhi is constantly telling Washington about terrorist threats to the country from America’s ally, Pakistan.

Vaghela said the US government should fight for human rights in India and described the coming elections in Gujarat as a fight for humanity. “It is not a fight between the Congress and the BJP.”

He said the purpose of the delegation’s trip to the US was to tell Americans, especially Indian-Americans, that the image of Gujarat being projected after the communal riots this year is unfair. “Gujaratis are peace-loving people.”

At the same time, the GPCC chief urged Indians in America not to contribute money to organisations belonging to the Sangh Parivar. Christian organisations here have been campaigning against such donations on the ground that funds from the US were used for communal riots in Gujarat.

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