Updated: Mar 24, 2022
Written by Samia Arni
Graphic by Ashwara Pillai
On September 24th, President Biden hosted India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi at the White House, pledging to further their relations and the US/India allyship. Outside of this meeting, hordes of Indian-Americans gathered outside the White House to celebrate this partnership and express their support for the Indian government.
This isn’t the first time Modi was invited to the US; in 2019, then President Trump and the Prime Minister hosted a major rally in Houston, TX, called “Howdy Modi”, in which over 50,000 people came out to support, including nearly every prominent Indian-related organization. Before that, former President Obama first invited Modi in 2015 after he got elected the year prior.
This current pattern marked a major shift in the attitude towards the Prime Minister and his beliefs. Before his election, Modi wasn’t even allowed in the United States; he had his visa revoked for his role in the 2002 riots in the Indian state of Gujarat. As Chief Minister of the state, he oversaw the deaths of over 1,000 people- predominantly Muslims -in a communal riot and was accused of condoning mass violence. Before this, his political career has been credited to his involvement in the organization known as the RSS (Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh), which has been said to be inspired by fascist movements, particularly that of Nazi Germany and Mussolini’s Italy.
After getting into office, Modi and the BJP (Bharatiya Janata Party), the Hindu nationalist political party that he’s a part of, continued their violent rhetoric towards Muslims and has eroded much of its secular democratic ideals. In 2019, the government passed a law known as the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), which combined with a proposed National Register of Citizens (NRC), would strip the citizenship of predominantly Muslims if they couldn’t prove that their ancestors were on Indian soil on or before 1971. This proved to be a challenge for many as documents such as birth certificates weren’t widely used or distributed in the past. Protests in 2019 and early 2020 against this law led to even more pogroms and riots, particularly in the capital of New Delhi, in which many more Muslims were killed and displaced.
Aside from his attitudes towards Muslims, Modi has also come under fire for his treatment of other minorities in the country. Lynchings and hate crimes towards Dalits, an oppressed caste that encompasses many religions and cultures, have surged since his election in 2014. The government has also come under fire for their treatment of farmers, many of which are Dalits/Sikhs from the state of Punjab, who have been impacted by the exacerbation of neoliberal policies and have been protesting against the state. As a result of these mass protests, they have been cast as “terrorists” and further violently targeted by the government.
Despite these crimes, much of the Indian diaspora in the west continues to support Modi's government. The US government’s support isn’t as surprising, given their history of supporting right-wing governments abroad in the name of “multiculturalism,” and to further their hegemony. However, Indian-Americans tend to lean liberal in their politics and attitudes towards social issues, much of it due to their own experiences of prejudice and war on terror rhetoric, so why is it that they turn a blind eye to these sentiments in India?