| Mandela: To come or not to come
New Delhi, Aug. 2: Nelson Mandela is being flooded with letters from India, urging him not to accept Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi’s invitation to attend Mahatma Gandhi’s birth anniversary function on October 2.
For Modi and his BJP government, a visit from the South African leader — who spent the best years of his life in prison fighting a racist regime — will be a badge of honour. Since the outbreak of the Gujarat riots last year, the chief minister has walked into one controversy after another.
The criticism has picked up with the latest exposures in the Best Bakery massacre case, in which the main witness accused a BJP MLA of intimidation. Fourteen people were burnt alive when the Vadodara bakery was attacked by a mob on March 1 in the riots that followed the Godhra train burnings. But the witness’ refusal to identify the accused led to their acquittal.
Last Thursday, the National Human Rights Commission took up the cause of the witness, petitioning the Supreme Court for a retrial and transfer of key riot cases out of the state.
Several organisations and individuals within and outside India are trying to stall the South African leader’s visit. In a letter to Mandela, Daniel ’Connor, from England, wrote: “You should stay away from the bogus Gandhi celebrations of the present regime in India. You should combine a visit with a journey to Gujarat in the company of human rights workers — not officials.”
“You should visit some of the survivors of the outrage against the Muslim (and to a lesser extent Christian) minority. Perhaps, Harsh Mander, Indian director of Action Aid, who resigned his senior post in the Indian Administrative Service (IAS) in protest at what happened, would be an ideal guide for you,” ’Connor added.
Another letter was from Shabnam Hashmi, an activist for peace and harmony. “Our appeal to you is to reject the invitation publicly so that the hands of those fighting for justice in Gujarat can be strengthened,” Hashmi wrote.
Letters have also reached the South African high commissioner in Delhi, asking him to inform Mandela about all the details of what has been happening to Muslims under the Modi regime.
“Nelson Mandela is regarded the world over as a voice that has rung out against anything which is draconian and authoritarian. It is the duty of every citizen to protest his coming to Gujarat until such time that justice prevails,” wrote Cedric Prakash, director of Prashant, a voluntary organisation in Ahmedabad.
BJP leader Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi refused to comment. “Nelson Mandela’s visit is still not confirmed. We do not want to comment on it,” Naqvi said.