Why Modi must form an Indian Commission on International Religious Freedom

Sandeep Balakrishna
Sandeep BalakrishnaMay 05, 2015 | 13:32

Why Modi must form an Indian Commission on International Religious Freedom

So the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) released its 2015 report last week, which unsurprisingly contains the same ridiculous and phony claims about how India under the Narendra Modi government is becoming increasingly religiously intolerant with various violent Hindu groups threatening Muslims and Christians, and the other jaded claptrap one is now familiar with. Suffice to say that one must pity the US government for allowing the USCIRF to waste its nation's precious resources that have gone in to produce this joke of a document.


The Narendra Modi-led government correctly trashed the report as appearing "to be based on limited understanding of India, its Constitution and its society" and "we take no cognisance of the report," and added nothing more. This sort of response emanates from a sense of quiet confidence and the courage to stand up to a global bully.

Firstpost editor R Jagannathan's acid observation on this report is also spot on in its assessment: "The United States Commission of International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) is a bit of a joke. It is a busybody created by US law to appease evangelical bigots at home."

In reality, the USCIRF is bureaucratese for "The United Church Lobby of the United States shall meddle in the internal religious and social affairs of other nations with an aim to bring non-Christian people closer to Jesus." While we don't need to take the USCIRF or its reports or other forms of bullying and skulduggery seriously, India as an independent, sovereign nation must keep a close watch on it. Its record of and its embryonic potential to create damage within the societies of foreign nations is as long as it is sordid. Indeed, Prime Minister Narendra Modi must know because he is the most high profile and the greatest, continuing victim of USCIRF and its affiliates both in the US and in India.


The USCIRF is the child of the 1988 International Religious Freedom Act (IRFA) passed by President Bill Clinton when he bowed down to the combined lobby of about 42,000 evangelical churches within the US. In an earlier analysis on IndiaFacts where I traced the origins, aims, and activities of the USCIRF, I noted how the "IRFA and the USCIRF's lofty concern for religious freedom was a mere garb. What was left unstated was the right to convert non-Christians across the world. Evangelism was officially made one of the tools of US foreign policy."

Writing in the New York Times, Zahir Janmohamed narrates how India was initially not on the USCIRF radar until Felice D Gaer, the director of the American Jewish Committee's human rights programme, was selected as a (USCIRF) commissioner in 2001. We shall let him speak:

Felice D Gaer, the director of the American Jewish Committee's human rights programme, was selected as a (USCIRF) commissioner in 2001, she decided to widen the panel's scope to other religions. "I wanted to turn this around, to make our focus broader," Gaer said in an interview. This chance came in February 2002 when she learned about the riots in Gujarat, India. "We learned about the riots in real time. We had people on staff who kept telling us we need to do something," Gaer said… Gaer tried to arrange an official commission trip to India to survey the damage caused by the 2002 riots but was denied permission to enter India.


That was just the opportunity the USCIRF needed. From then on, for a record 12 years - and even now, as the USCIRF 2015 report reveals - the USCIRF went after Narendra Modi with single-minded determination. No tactic was considered unfair or undignified. Its 2009 report dedicated an entire page to chastise Narendra Modi based on inputs received by the now-discredited Gujarat riots cottage industry with Tehelka being one of the foremost leaders of the charge. This, when the then-UPA Government was yet to take a position on Tehelka's serial lies against Narendra Modi, then the Gujarat chief minister. The USCIRF 2009 report is also notable for another important reason: it claims as authentic the motivated fiction that the Sabarmati Express bogie miraculously lit itself up resulting in the death of 58 Hindus. Needless to say, the USCIRF conveniently relied on the discredited "investigation" by the Lalu Prasad-appointed Banerjee report. This then is the evidence for how credible the USCIRF reports are.

But let's rewind some more.

Furious at being denied entry to India in 2002 in the wake of the Gujarat riots, the USCIRF identified a set of people in India who they could co-opt. And sure enough, there were more than enough willing Indians who were glad to be co-opted.

And so, the USCIRF at the cost of American taxpayer money, flew down Teesta Setalvad, Father Cedric Prakash, Najid Hussain (son-in-law of Ahsan Jaffri, the Gujarat MP killed in the 2002 Gujarat riots), and Kamal Mitra Chenoy (then a Professor at JNU, and currently a member of the Aam Aadmi Party) for a "hearing." Particularly instructive is the "testimony" (recommend reading in full) given by Kamal Mitra Chenoy. Terms like "thousands of Muslims were killed," "genocide," "holocaust," "Nazi," "Hitler," and "ethnic cleansing" were casually bandied about at that hearing. Of course, the verdict was already drawn but the charade had to be enacted to lend "official-ness," due process, and all that before the report was prepared and published. Is it mere coincidence that Teesta Setalvad received a $90,000 grant from Ford Foundation first in 2004, and a further $2,50,000 in 2009?

This "hearing" among other skulduggeries was how Gujarat became India's own state-within-state Nazi Germany with Narendra Modi as its Hitler. We all know how that narrative proceeded later.

Oh, and the other important and direct outcome of the USCIRF "hearing" was the fact that the US denied visa to chief minister Narendra Modi. This episode should go down for all eternity in the hall of infamy on several counts: the lack of spine of the UPA government to stand up for a constitutionally-elected chief minister of its own country, worse, the open celebration of senior UPA ministers whose hatred for Modi is well-known, and the shameless gloating of the entire secular brigade on achieving a spectacular victory. How is this dissimilar to the behaviour of our kings who sided with alien invaders against other Indian kings who were their enemies?

In the same timeframe, the USCIRF also heavily meddled in places as diverse as Kandhamal (Brannon Parker's Orissa in Crossfire is an in-depth, factual and no-holds-barred book that exposes the evangelical US lobby and other church-sponsored conversions, and activities resulting in the breakup of traditional tribal societies, societal disharmony, and violence) and Karnataka. Of course, this meddling is routinely presented in the USCIRF annual report as attacks against Christians. Of course, the USCIRF report was careful enough to not mention the church's hand behind the 80-year old Swami Lakshmananda Saraswati's brutal murder in Kandhamal.

The double duplicity of the USCIRF becomes clear when we observe the fact that none of its annual reports on "religious freedom" mentions the real ethnic cleansing and other forms of persecution of Hindus anywhere in the world: from Kashmir, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Malaysia, the Indian North East, West Bengal, and Fiji.

What's rich is the fact that in its grand wisdom, the USCIRF 2015 report doesn't list Pakistan in its tier-2 of what it calls CPC - countries of particular concern - but India figures there. This when Pakistan has unleashed a fresh wave of systematic and barbaric brutalities against the Balochis, force-feeding human faeces to these unfortunate minorities. Given all this, how the USCIRF defines "religious tolerance" is truly mind-boggling. We can turn to R Jagannathan again to understand some of the contours of this definition:

"India, where the evangelical lobby has huge market share hopes, is in Tier-2 because we are frenemies of the US. We are potential pals since we are the only nation big enough to counter-weigh China; but we are also the bad boys who worship too many strange gods and who want to politically resist easy evangelisation. If Uncle Sam's Religious Cohorts are kept out of the biggest soul-harvesting market outside China, or hindered in their work by Freedom of Religion laws, they will list you as villain."

To an extent, it is quite futile to blame the USCIRF entirely given how many willing Indian collaborators gleefully threw mud at their own country. As the scholar Dr Anirban Ganguly notes, even as recently as in April 2014, John Dayal "deposed" before a hearing of the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission pompously titled, "Plight of Religious Minorities in India." To put it bluntly, if one of your own family offers your entire family up to a cunning enemy (in this case, "frenemy," per R Jagannathan), what are the chances of the enemy refusing the offer?

This has been said before and it's worth repeating and recalling this dictum: the United States is nobody's friend. We've seen the kind of fate that has befallen nations that have cavorted too intimately with the US. Indeed, let's not go too far. We have Pakistan right next door which allowed the US military to use its airspace during the stealthy raid to snuff out Osama bin Laden. It stretches belief that the Pakistani establishment wasn't aware of an alien nation's aircraft entering its airspace much less carry out a mini military operation on its soil. Does India want a similar fate?

The Narendra Modi-led government has treated the latest USCIRF report with the contempt it deserves but it should do more. Starting this year, the Indian government should form an Indian Commission on International Religious Freedom (ICIRF) and begin publishing quarterly and annual reports on the racial, communal, gender-related and other social and religious crimes and atrocities perpetrated by the US both on its own soil and elsewhere in the world.

We can begin with Baltimore.

Last updated: May 05, 2015 | 13:32
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