Washington, Feb. 10: President George W. Bush's pledge last month to bring democracy to oppressed peoples throughout the world will soon reach Muslims in Gujarat if the US state department under its new secretary of state, Condoleezza Rice, has its way.
The department's bureau of democracy, human rights and labour yesterday announced its support for projects in Gujarat aimed at bringing legal redress to Muslims.
Describing Indian Muslims as 'marginalised', it announced support for building civil society for the minority community nationwide and for programmes aimed at promoting their inclusiveness.
A total of $15 million has been set apart for such projects worldwide during the financial year 2005. The state department has invited organisations to submit proposals which focus on promotion of human rights, political participation, media freedom, rule of law, women's rights and civil society among Muslims.
The bureau for democracy, human rights and labour, notorious for its intrusion in countries that Washington is not comfortable with, has been funding or helping similar programmes since 1998.
But this is the first time that it is offering to directly get involved in India either for promoting human rights or civil society on behalf of the country's minorities. Its only other programme which had an Indian element was held five years ago, when it spent $275,000 on a meeting in Delhi on global democracy.
After the September 11 attacks, the bureau contributed half-a-million dollars to a programme in support of elections in Pakistan. The bureau also gave $250,000 for setting up an independent human rights commission in post-Taliban Afghanistan.
All through this, the bureau has steered clear of India. Even a 'partnership to eliminate sweatshops programme' announced last year did not focus on India.
The decision to bring India under the bureau's radar is being linked to fears in the Bush administration of a rise in the influence of the religious right.
Some Pakistani lobbies had tried to get America to blacklist India after the Gujarat riots but former secretary of state Colin Powell had rejected such proposals.