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Tag: narendra modi

Biden: No Change To U.S. "Strategic Ambiguity" On Taiwan Defense

By Trevor Hunnicutt and Sakura Murakami

TOKYO (Reuters) -- President Joe Biden on Tuesday said there was no change to a U.S. policy of "strategic ambiguity" on Taiwan, a day after he appeared to stretch the limits of the U.S. line on the island by saying he would be willing to use force to defend it.

The issue of Taiwan looms over a meeting in Tokyo of leaders of the Quad grouping of the United States, Japan, Australia and India, who have stressed their determination to ensure a free and open Indo-Pacific region in the face of an increasingly assertive China.

While Washington is required by law to provide self-ruled Taiwan with the means to defend itself, it has long followed a policy of "strategic ambiguity" on whether it would intervene militarily to protect it in the event of a Chinese attack - a convention Biden had appeared to break with on Monday.

On Tuesday, Biden, asked if there had been any change to the U.S. policy on Taiwan, responded: "No."

"The policy has not changed at all. I stated that when I made my statement yesterday," he said after a round of talks with his Quad colleagues.

China considers Taiwan an inalienable part of its territory and says it is the most sensitive and important issue in its relationship with Washington.

Biden's Monday comment, when he volunteered U.S. military support for Taiwan, was the latest in a series of apparently off-the-cuff assertions that suggest his personal inclination is to defend it.

Some critics have said he has misspoken on the issue, or made a gaffe, and his muddying of the issue risked accelerating China's desire to act, without carrying the muscle of a formal security guarantee.

But other policy analysts have suggested that given Biden's extensive foreign policy experience, and the context in which he made the remarks, next to Japan's prime minister and after the Russian invasion of Ukraine, suggested he didn't misspeak.

Taiwan was not an official item on the Quad agenda and Biden spoke more about Ukraine, condemning Russia's invasion as a global issue.

"Russia's assault of Ukraine only heightens the importance of those goals of fundamental principles of international order, territorial integrity and sovereignty. International law, human rights must always be defended regardless of where they're violated in the world," he said.

Biden said the United States would stand with its "close democratic partners" to push for a free and open Indo-Pacific.

'Ambitious Action'

Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida echoed Biden's condemnation of Russia, saying its invasion "shakes the foundation of international order" and was a direct challenge to the principles of the United Nations.

"We should not allow similar things to happen in the Indo-Pacific region," he said.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi did not mention Ukraine, Russia or China in his opening remarks.

India has frustrated the United States with what it regards as a lack of support for U.S.-led sanctions on Russia and condemnation of its invasion.

Though India has developed close U.S. ties in recent years and is a vital part of the Quad grouping aimed at pushing back against China, it also has a long-standing relationship with Russia, which remains a major supplier of its defense equipment and oil supplies.

India abstained in U.N. Security Council votes on Russia's invasion, though it did raise concerns about some killings of Ukrainian civilians.

New Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said his goals were aligned with the priorities of the Quad, telling his fellow leaders he wanted them all to lead on climate change.

"The region is looking to us to work with them and to lead by example," he said.

"That's why my government will take ambitious action on climate change and increase our support to partners in the region as they work to address it, including with new finance."

China has been extending its influence in the Pacific where island nations face some of the most direct risks from rising seas.

On India's stand on Ukraine, a U.S. official said Biden, who is due to hold bilateral talks with Modi later on Tuesday, would seek out commonalities, emphasizing the importance of a face-to-face meeting.

"It's true with all the members of Quad there are some differences, the question is how they're addressed and how they're managed," the official said in a briefing to reporters before the talks.

(Reporting by Trevor Hunnicutt, Sakura Murakami, David Dolan, Chang-Ran Kim, Kiyoshi Takenaka and Krishna Das; writing by Trevor Hunnicutt and Elaine Lies; editing by Michael Perry, Robert Birsel)

Far-Right Prime Minister Culpable For India’s Pandemic Disaster

This article was produced by Economy for All, a project of the Independent Media Institute.

India has become the new global epicenter of the coronavirus pandemic, with daily infections surpassing 300,000 per day and the official death toll—likely a massive underestimate—nearing a quarter of a million people. Hospitals are being overrun with patients, and the crisis is exacerbated by a devastating shortage of oxygen. The Indian judiciary has gone as far as threatening capital punishment for anyone caught trying to divert shipments of oxygen from around the country to affected areas. There have been dozens of deaths documented directly tied to a lack of oxygen.

Only a few months ago, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi was basking in the glow of success at beating the virus and scientific experts were confounded as to why COVID-19 infections and related deaths were falling. India had access to two vaccines, a homegrown one developed by Bharat Biotech, and the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine that was being mass-produced at Indian facilities. Mask wearing was reportedly nearly universal, and the Wall Street Journal hailed India's "proven pandemic strategy."

So, what happened?

Amandeep Sandhu, a journalist and novelist based in Bangalore, author of Bravado to Fear to Abandonment: Mental Health and the COVID-19 Lockdown, had a one-word explanation for me: "complacency." In an interview, he issued a scathing critique of the Modi government, saying it suffered from "arrogance, policy paralysis, and no efforts to learn from the past year." A government with a religious fundamentalist ideology that has taken aim at minority groups and elevated a form of fascist Hindu supremacy has failed its people spectacularly.

Sandhu cited how Modi's Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which has retained a majority stranglehold on Indian politics for decades, sponsored massive in-person rallies this spring to shore up votes for state elections. Modi's Twitter feed is replete with videos of his speeches in early April (here, here, and here for example) where he boasted of "euphoric" crowds packed together like sardines with nary a mask in sight cheering him on. The phenomenon was not unlike Donald Trump's political rallies in the United States last year, which were often marked by increased rates of infection in the weeks following.

Modi also encouraged millions of Hindus to attend the Kumbh Mela festival that takes place every 12 years. This largest religious pilgrimage on earth involves masses of devotees submerging themselves in the Ganges River. A whopping 3.5 million people attended this year, even as rates of infection had begun to rise and public health experts warned of the potentially dire consequences.

A year ago, government leaders denounced a far smaller gathering by a Muslim organization called Tablighi Jamaat which was linked to the spread of the virus. A BPJ member of the legislative assembly from the state of Karnataka went as far as encouraging the lynching of Muslims over the gathering and said, "Spreading COVID-19 is also like terrorism, and all those who are spreading the virus are traitors." This year, no such pronouncements were aimed at the Hindu gathering that was many orders of magnitude larger.

Modi has also refused to negotiate with tens of thousands of poor farmers who began a mass occupation on the outskirts of the capital New Delhi last year in protest of new harsh privatization farm laws. While the number of farmers protesting declined during the annual spring harvest as they returned to pick crops on their farms, an estimated 15,000 still remain, and according to Sandhu, many more are ready to return if needed.

"What choice do the farmers have at this point?" asked Sandhu. "The farm laws will kill them in the next few years, and, heaven forbid, if the virus comes, it will kill them quickly. So, death is on both sides. What do they do?" And so, the farmers continue to protest, although, according to Sandhu, their outdoor occupation has not been linked to the spread of COVID-19 yet. Instead, farmers fear that the Modi government will use the pandemic as a tool to force them to end their protests.

Like Trump, Modi has gone out of his way to ensure he receives credit for combating the virus, launching a relief fund last year called PM Cares that has collected massive amounts of donations. And just like Trump, he has been opaque about disseminating and managing the fund. One activist called the PM Cares fund "a blatant scam."

In spite of being the world's largest manufacturer of COVID-19 vaccines, India has exported far more doses to other nations than were deployed internally. Modi has been accused of engaging in "vaccine diplomacy," giving away millions of vaccines to other nations to shore up his international support. Sandhu said that although he didn't hold India's vaccine exports against the Modi government given that the pandemic is a global disaster, what he does object to is how the privatization of Indian health care has kept vaccines out of the reach of the poorest Indians.

According to Sandhu, the "vaccine has been put on the open market with limited provision from the government to inoculate citizens." In other words, poor Indians have to wait far longer to obtain the vaccine compared to wealthier Indians who can walk into a private clinic and purchase a dose. Sandhu asked, "how will India's poor afford the vaccine? If they can't, we as a society, and the world at large, remain vulnerable. The vaccine must be free for all."

Now, as the Indian government flounders under international scrutiny with hundreds of thousands of new infections emerging each day, Modi, who is as prolific on Twitter as Trump had been before he was banished from the platform, appears more concerned about his image than about his country. His administration found time amid the crisis to demand that Twitter remove tweets critical of his handling of the pandemic—and the social media company complied.

It's not just Twitter that is validating Modi. Right-wing supporters of Indian origin in the U.S. routinely donate millions of dollars to float the Modi government's fascist educational programs and nationalist groups. Indeed, some groups like the Houston-based Sewa International are considered the U.S. arm of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), which is the parent organization of the BJP. Sewa International, taking advantage of international concern over India's coronavirus crisis, is seeking to raise $10 million for oxygen concentrators and other medical supplies. But, in 2004, the organization was implicated in a scam where it diverted funding from the British public intended for earthquake relief toward the building of ideological Hindu supremacist schools. More recently, the group was caught restricting funding for flood victims in Kerala to Hindus only.

President Joe Biden's administration has also faced criticism for embracing the BJP and its authoritarianism, continuing a trend from the previous administration. Biden appointed Sri Preston Kulkarni, an Indian American with ties to the RSS, to a key position in AmeriCorps. Kulkarni ran a failed campaign for a congressional seat representing Texas with funding help from Ramesh Bhutada, who is now the director of Sewa International.

The Biden administration has been under pressure for months to waive intellectual property rights for COVID-19 vaccines, weighing the need for pharmaceutical corporations to reap profits against the lives of millions. Now, with India's devastating crisis, Biden once again considered the option ahead of a World Trade Organization meeting on April 30. But by the time the waived patents are put to use, hundreds of thousands more will have died.

In the meantime, Indians continue dying in numbers so large that the capital New Delhi glows at night from the fires of mass cremations. As the hashtag #ResignModi began trending to new heights, Sandhu summarized succinctly that "the government has failed on all accounts."

Indian Students Protest In Thousands As Government Cracks Down On Dissent

By Sankalp Phartiyal and Rupam Jain

NEW DELHI (Reuters) – India’s biggest nationwide student protests in a quarter of a century spread across campuses on Monday after the arrest of a student accused of sedition, in the latest battle with Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government over freedom of expression.Outrage over the arrest of the left-wing student leader, who had organized a rally to mark the anniversary of the execution of a Kashmiri separatist, has led to demonstrations in at least 18 universities.

In the largest protest, thousands of students and academics at New Delhi’s prestigious Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) boycotted classes and erected barricades for a fourth day in an escalating conflict with the authorities.”The government does not want students to have a say,” said Rahila Parween, vice-president of the Delhi unit of the All India Students’ Federation, a left-wing student union. “It wants to dictate what students think, understand and say.”

The incident marks another flare-up in an ideological confrontation between Modi’s nationalist government and left-wing and liberal groups that is prompting critics to compare it with Indira Gandhi’s imposition of a state of emergency in the 1970s to crush dissent.

Members of Modi’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) accused the student leader, Kanhaiya Kumar, of “anti-India” sentiment. One BJP lawmaker said the university, which has a tradition of left-wing politics, should be shut down.

“I can assure you that every action we take is to protect our country. Any anti-India activity will not be tolerated,” BJP President Amit Shah, one of Modi’s closest allies, said at party headquarters.

Protests spread when Kumar was arrested last week for sedition, after giving a speech questioning the hanging in 2013 of Mohammad Afzal Guru over his role in the 2001 attack on parliament.Activists have long questioned Guru’s conviction, and India’s Supreme Court has described the evidence against him as circumstantial.

Scuffles erupted outside a New Delhi courthouse between lawyers and students where Kumar, 28, was to appear before a judge on Monday.

Anti-India Sentiment

A leader of the student group that is aligned with the BJP said freedom of expression should not be misused to justify acts that could harm the country.

“You cannot be an Indian if you celebrate the death anniversary of a terrorist,” said Saurabh Sharma, joint secretary of the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (All India Student Council).

Home Minister Rajnath Singh has, meanwhile, faced ridicule for citing a fake tweet to say that the JNU demonstration had been backed by Hafiz Saeed, a Pakistani militant accused by India of being behind the 2008 attack on Mumbai in which 166 people died.

Delhi police circulated the fake tweet at the weekend in a warning to students “not to get carried away by such seditious and anti-national rhetoric”. A spokesman did not answer calls to his mobile phone on Monday seeking comment.

“The crackdown signals an utter lack of judgment in the government, where ministers manage to manufacture a national crisis out of what were always, at best, minor affectations in student politics,” Pratap Bhanu Mehta, a leading political commentator, wrote in the Indian Express newspaper.

Since Modi rose to power in May 2014, people in India have been attacked by Hindus enraged at reports of cows – sacred in their religion – being slaughtered, smuggled or consumed.

There has been a series of attacks on churches, while writers have returned awards in protest over the government’s silence over a series of murders of secular scholars. At least 18 university campuses witnessed protests on Monday. Students in the eastern city of Kolkata burnt an effigy of Modi and left-wing groups in the neighboring state of Odisha planned state-wide demonstrations.Analysts said the student protests were the most widespread in India since the self-immolation of a young Indian in 1990 after the government ruled in favor of providing affirmative action to the lower castes in higher education. “We are witnessing liberal India, particularly young people who are usually more idealistic, fighting back,” said Satish Misra, a political analyst at the Observer Research Foundation.


(Additonal reporting by Jatindra Das; Writing by Andrew MacAskill and Rupam Jain; Editing by Douglas Busvine and Mike Collett-White)

Photo: Students of Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) attend a protest inside the university campus in New Delhi, India, February 15, 2016. REUTERS/Anindito Mukherjee

Obama Urges Religious Tolerance, Human Rights In India

By Christi Parsons and Shashank Bengali, Los Angeles Times (TNS)

NEW DELHI — President Obama urged support for religious tolerance and human rights in a speech Tuesday in New Delhi, drawing on the American experience and his own personal ones to soften a message with the potential to give offense to his Indian hosts, especially Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

American society isn’t immune from intolerance and violence, Obama said, recalling the 2012 attack on Sikh worshipers at a temple in Wisconsin as an example of “the darkest impulses of man.”

In his own life, the president said, his Christian faith has been questioned by “people who don’t know me,” a reference to lingering suspicions among some about his Islamic heritage on his father’s side.

“Every person has the right to practice their faith how they choose,” he said, “or to practice no faith at all, and to do so free from persecution and fear.”

The speech was the first Obama has delivered on his three-day trip to India without Modi at his side. The two leaders have displayed a concerted effort this week to emphasize the shared interests of their countries and the personal amity between the two of them, and Obama had not previously raised his concerns about human rights in a direct and public way.

But his final set of remarks on the way out of the country came as reformists are hoping Modi will mute the divisive agenda of his militant Hindu-nationalist supporters and turn the country’s attention more squarely to economic reform.

Hindu militants have recently run campaigns of mass conversion to bribe or force Muslims and Christians to change their religion, including in Modi’s home state of Gujarat.

Though Indian courts found no evidence of Modi’s involvement in deadly religious rioting there when he was the state’s the top elected official, Muslims and Christians are still wary of his right-wing party.

Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party grew out of a right-wing Hindu nationalist movement, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, whose leaders believe that India is a fundamentally Hindu nation. The South Asian nation’s 1.2 billion people are 78 percent Hindu, with Muslims making up the largest religious minority at 14 percent, according to 2011 census figures.

In recent months, the RSS, for which Modi worked as a volunteer before entering politics, has announced mass camps to “reconvert” Muslims and Christians to Hinduism, claiming their forefathers were forced to change their religions. Hindu fundamentalists also have accused Muslims of marrying Hindu girls for the sole purpose of converting them to Islam, a practice dubbed “love jihad.”

Modi has refused to distance himself publicly from the hard-line efforts, although his aides say he does not support forced conversions, which are outlawed in India. Modi did apologize in December after a junior minister in his government described non-Hindus as “illegitimate children,” although he rejected calls to fire her.

The Obama administration has worked hard to smooth over hard personal feelings after Modi was denied visa entry into the U.S. in 2005 following the religious rioting.

But as they prepared for this week’s trip to promote stronger ties with India, top advisors said Obama did not want to make the journey without specifically addressing the issue of human rights.

As he did so on Tuesday, Obama repeatedly emphasized the two country’s shared democratic values and intertwined histories of struggle: When Martin Luther King, Jr. visited India, he was introduced to schoolchildren as “a fellow untouchable.” Obama’s grandfather was a cook for the British army in another British colony, Kenya. First Lady Michelle Obama’s family tree includes both slaves and slave owners.

“When we were born, people who looked like us still couldn’t vote in many parts of our country,” he said.

But in India and the U.S., he said, the grandson of a cook and the son of a tea seller can rise to the top elected office in the land.

“Our nations are strongest when we see that we are all God’s children — all equal in his eyes, all worthy of his love,” he said. “Across our two great countries we have Hindus and Muslims, Christians and Sikhs, Jews and Buddhists and Jains and so many faiths.

“And we remember the wisdom of Gandhi,” he said, quoting Mahatma Gandhi as saying, “For me, the different religions are beautiful flowers from the same garden, or they are branches of the same majestic tree.”

Afterward, Obama prepared for a trip to Saudi Arabia to pay respects to the family of the late King Abdullah.

Photo: U.S. President Barack Obama, left, talks with his Indian counterpart Pranab Mukherjee at Presidential Palace on Jan. 26, 2015 in New Delhi, India. U.S. President Barack Obama Sunday said that it was a ”great honor” for him to be back in India, after inspecting a guard of honor at the presidential palace in the national capital. (Xinhua/Zuma Press/TNS)

Obama, India’s Prime Minister Face Cold, Rain In Effort To Warm Relations

By Christi Parsons and Shashank Bengali, Los Angeles Times (TNS)

NEW DEHLI — President Obama joined Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi for a lengthy celebration of India’s Republic Day on Monday in a symbolic series of events summarized by a long parade in cold rain.

Shielded partly by an umbrella, Obama sat attentively for more than two hours by Modi’s side, watching camels and dancers parade down Rajpath, a grand ceremonial boulevard in central New Delhi.

He listened as Modi explained the floats from each of the Indian states, nodding enthusiastically at the one from the prime minister’s home state of Gujarat.

The display of respect is the purpose of Obama’s trip. After years of rocky relations between their two countries, the White House is hoping that the growing personal warmth between the president and prime minister will turn into a more cooperative relationship between their governments.

But the Soviet-style military parade today also illustrated the awkwardness that remains, with Obama watching an abundance of Russian-made hardware filing past.

Even as Modi tries to edge closer to the U.S., India’s traditional orientation remains strong. During a side-by-side news conference over the weekend, Obama criticized Russia and Russian President Vladimir Putin while Modi, who has defended Russia’s actions in Ukraine, stood there silently.

Aides to the president say the conversations between Obama and Modi are going well. After their closed door sessions on Sunday, the two men announced a minor meeting of the minds on a few matters, including a civil nuclear deal that could clear the way for multi-national corporations to build nuclear power plants here.

The White House characterized the accords as breakthroughs, in the sense that they cleared hurdles that have stood in the way of bigger deals on global climate talks and greater access to Indian markets for American companies.

Far and away, though, advisors to Obama say he made the unusual one-country trip to India in an attempt to pay respects and warm relations.

Monday was devoted to that purpose, as the president and First Lady Michelle Obama braved the weather to watch the entire parade – with TV cameras trained on them for reactions in live broadcasts on several India television channels.

Obama sat by Modi, who wore a turban with a bright red fan, watching several Indian military regiments – including one riding on camels draped in bright poms and tiny mirrors.

As the floats from the states rolled by, though, he tilted his head close to Modi and asked questions. Modi smiled and pointed at the Gujarat float, featuring his pet project back home, the Statue of Unity.

He watched without saying much as several armored trucks and tanks rolled by, along with soldiers cradling assault weapons in their arms.

Much of the procession of Indian military hardware comes from Russia. A succession of Russian-made T-90 and T-72 battle tanks rumbled down the boulevard, followed by a flyover by three Russian Mi-35 helicopters in formation.

But at the end of the parade, India displayed some newer hardware from the United States, which has surpassed Russia to become India’s main arms supplier. India bought $1.9 billion in U.S. weaponry in 2013, according to IHS Jane’s, a security analysis group, including advanced aircraft that Indian officials say will be the cornerstone of the country’s air force.

American-made C-17 and C-130J planes along with the Boeing-built Poseidon aircraft participated in a flyover, although they were escorted by Russian fighter planes, a sign of India trying to strike a balance between an old friend and a new one.

“Even though the U.S. has lost opportunities to sell to India over the years, it has regained the initiative and the parade demonstrated that,” said Sameer Patil, a defense analyst at Gateway House, a Mumbai think tank. “It took Russia 50 years to build the defense partnership with India but the U.S. has overtaken them in the last 10 years.”

U.S. and Indian officials on Sunday announced expanded defense cooperation and plans to jointly produce four relatively basic military projects, including the unarmed Raven drone aircraft, manufactured by Monrovia, Calif.-based AeroVironment Inc.

“The preference of both sides is to work on simpler systems and see results, and then move on to more complicated stuff,” Patil said.

AFP Photo/Roberto Schmidt

Modi, In Rock Star U.S. Debut, Vows To Make India Proud

New York (AFP) — Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi basked in a rock star U.S. welcome as he vowed to build a strong, confident country ahead of his first White House summit Monday.

In a massive show of support for a right-wing leader once shunned by Washington, some 18,500 people of Indian origin from across the United States and Canada packed Sunday into New York’s Madison Square Garden, where they chanted his name and wore T-shirts bearing his picture.

Modi, who Monday will enjoy a red carpet welcome at the White House, renewed campaign pledges to unlock India’s economic potential by streamlining bureaucracy.

He hailed Indian Americans for showing an example through their professional successes.

“There was a time when people thought that we were a country of snake-charmers,” Modi said.

“Our people used to play with snakes, but now they play with the mouse — and that mouse makes the whole world run.”

Modi promised to start lifetime visas for foreigners of Indian origin and, endorsing a proposal of the previous government without setting a date, to issue visas on arrival for U.S. citizens.

“This kind of love has not been given to any Indian leader ever,” he said of the Indian-American reception.

“I will repay that loan by building the India of your dreams.”

Modi, who won India’s widest electoral victory in three decades in April-May elections, fired back at critics who have urged him to launch quicker reforms as he recalled his humble background running a tea stall as a teenager.

“People ask for a big vision? Well, I got here by selling tea,” Modi, speaking for an hour in Hindi without notes, said to thunderous applause.

“I’m a very modest man, and that’s why I plan to do big things for modest people,” he said, listing promises that include building more toilets and cleaning the Ganges holy river.

Pointing to U.S. leaders’ statements that Asia will dominate the 21st century, Modi said: “And some say it will be India’s century. India has the capacity to achieve that potential.”

– Unprecedented reception –

Sporting a vest in the saffron associated with Hinduism, Modi spoke from a slowly revolving stage in the storied arena that is home to the New York Knicks basketball team and a top destination for big-ticket musicians, with Billy Joel to play later this week.

In a touch reminiscent of U.S. political conventions, balloons fell as Modi finished his speech while he waved to a crowd that chanted in Hindi, “Long Live Mother India.”

More than 30 U.S. members of Congress took part in the reception that warmed up with Bollywood and traditional dances. But from the start, the crowd chanted for Modi, leading an emcee to warn that the event was not a “campaign rally.”

While foreign leaders often hold community receptions when visiting the United States, an event on the scale of Modi’s is exceedingly rare, with only popes packing stadiums.

But U.S.-based supporters have campaigned for years to boost the image of Modi, who was refused a visa by the United States in 2005 on human rights grounds over anti-Muslim riots when he was leader of the western state of Gujarat.

Modi has denied wrongdoing and was never charged. The United States rushed to court Modi as it became clear he would take power, with Obama taking the unusual step of meeting him over two days.

– Rare meeting with Israel –

In another shift, Modi met in New York with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the first substantive meeting between the two countries’ leaders in 11 years.

An upbeat Netanyahu said he was “delighted” to meet Modi and invited him to visit Israel, in what would be a first for an Indian prime minister.

“We are very excited by the prospects of greater and greater ties with India. We think the sky’s the limit,” Netanyahu said.

Modi proudly told Netanyahu of India’s ancient Jewish community, saying that his was “the only country where anti-Semitism has never been allowed to come up and Jews have never suffered.”

The last Hindu nationalist government in 2003 welcomed Ariel Sharon on the first-ever visit by an Israeli leader.

But the subsequent government of the Congress party, which leans left and enjoys strong support from the Muslim minority, avoided high-profile meetings even as trade and defense ties soared.

AFP Photo/Don Emmert

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Trade, Border Dispute On Agenda During Xi’s India Visit

By Sunrita Sen, dpa

NEW DELHI — Chinese President Xi Jinping arrived in India Wednesday for a three-day trip aimed at boosting trade and investment between the two countries and to give a push to the resolution of a decades-old border dispute.

Xi, accompanied by his wife Peng Liyuan and a high level delegation, landed to a grand welcome at Ahmedabad, the principal city in the western state of Gujarat, which is also Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s home state.

Setting aside protocol, Modi waited to greet Xi as he arrived at a local hotel, where they held brief one-on-one talks followed by the signing of three agreements.

The agreements included a new partnership between the Chinese province of Guangdong and Gujarat, one of the more prosperous Indian states, and between the states’ capital cities Guangdong and Ahmedabad.

The third memorandum signed in the presence of the two leaders cemented the creation of an industrial development park in Gujarat underpinned by Chinese investment.

“Unique chemistry between India & China can script history & create a better tomorrow for the entire humankind,” Modi tweeted on the eve of Xi’s arrival.

In an article in The Hindu newspaper, Xi said “the combination of the ‘world’s factory’ and the ‘world’s back office’ will produce the most competitive production base and the most attractive consumer market.”

Xi is scheduled to fly to the Indian capital later Wednesday, ahead of delegation-level talks with Modi and other Indian leaders on Thursday.

Xi’s other engagements in Ahmedabad included a visit to Mahatma Gandhi’s ashram, a walk along the spruced-up Sabarmati riverfront and a dinner in luxury tents set up for the occasion.

Boosting trade and increasing investment by China in infrastructure projects including highways, railways, ports, and industrial zones are expected to be covered in the discussions Thursday.
Contentious issues including disputed areas along a shared 3,500-kilometre border and India’s large trade deficit with China are also on the agenda, a spokesman for India’s Ministry of External Affairs said.

Xi’s visit comes amid reports in the Indian media of a fresh face-off between Indian and Chinese troops in the Ladakh region of India’s Jammu and Kashmir state.

Earlier this month, Modi made his first bilateral visit outside South Asia to Tokyo, which has increasingly bitter relations with Beijing. During the trip, Japan vowed to provide over 30 billion dollars in public and private lending and investment to India.

Indian media has been reporting that Xi is expected to pledge investments that exceed those promised by Japan.

“On a conservative estimate, I can say that we will commit investments of over 100 billion dollars or thrice the investments committed by Japan during our President Xi Jinping’s visit,” the Times of India quoted China’s consul general in Mumbai Liu Youfa as saying.

“These will be made in setting up of industrial parks, modernization of railways, highways, ports, power generation, distribution and transmission, automobiles, manufacturing, food processing, and textile industries.”

AFP Photo

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In India Relief Camp, Little Hope Or Trust Of The Man Who Would Be Prime Minister

By Shashank Bengali, Los Angeles Times

AHMEDABAD, India — He was 12, too young to process the horror: Mobs of youths barely older than him swarmed his neighborhood with daggers and axes. Homes and the local mosque were ransacked and burned, bodies hacked to pieces, Hindu religious chants used as cries of war.

Mansoor Shah Suleiman escaped the sectarian riots that shook Ahmedabad and settled with his family in the Citizen Nagar relief camp on the outskirts of the city. Twelve years later, they still reside there, in a spartan concrete room in the shadow of a 10-story garbage dump so fetid that relatives refuse to visit them.

As much of Ahmedabad has flourished, the camp has become a permanent Muslim slum, forgotten by the authorities and suffocating the aspirations of young people like Suleiman, 24, who stitches shirts for $2 a day. In recent weeks, while Indians went to the polls in massive numbers to decide a pivotal national election, he cast his ballot with little enthusiasm, saying, “There is no hope for us.”

The reason, many in the camp say, is the man who has ruled the western state of Gujarat since 2001 and is likely to emerge as India’s next prime minister: Narendra Modi. He is an austere Hindu hard-liner whom critics accuse of allowing the attacks that killed hundreds of Muslims and forced tens of thousands from their homes in February 2002.

Modi, chief minister of Gujarat, has denied complicity and been cleared of involvement by court inquiries, although questions persist about their objectivity.

In a remarkable political turnaround, Modi has recast himself as a take-charge administrator, and according to exit polls released ahead of Friday’s official results, he has led the conservative Bharatiya Janata Party and its allies to a convincing victory in the parliamentary elections.

Of eligible voters, about two-thirds — some 540 million people — participated in six weeks of phased balloting that Indian officials often described as the world’s largest and most complex democratic exercise. Poll workers traversed mountains, forests and deserts to carry ballot boxes to remote villages, while in urban areas the airwaves were blanketed by spirited election coverage.

Modi’s record in spurring growth in booming Gujarat resonated with an India that has faltered in pursuit of its economic rival, China. Nevertheless, to many Muslims, liberals and proponents of a secular, pluralistic India, Modi’s rise serves as a source of fear, leaving the vast and diverse nation divided after one of the most bitter political campaigns in its history.

“The election turned out to be a referendum on one person,” said Sanjay Kumar, a political scientist and director of the Center for the Study of Developing Societies, a New Delhi think tank.

As a young man, Modi, who grew up dirt-poor as the son of a tea seller, left home to join the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, a right-wing paramilitary organization that preaches Hindu superiority and demands asceticism in service of the nation. The group has been banned several times for inciting violence against non-Hindus, raising questions about Modi’s willingness to represent the estimated 14 percent of Indians — about 175 million people — who are Muslim.

During the campaign, Modi played down his ties to the group and bragged that Muslims fared better in Gujarat than anywhere else in the country. But he also said he would deport illegal Muslim immigrants from Bangladesh while allowing Hindu migrants to remain in India. A party leader in the eastern state of Bihar said Modi’s critics could “go to Pakistan.”

Modi’s biography stands in sharp contrast to that of his chief rival, Rahul Gandhi, dynast of the family that has led India for much of its post-independence history. Exit polls suggest Gandhi’s left-leaning, scandal-plagued Indian National Congress party will suffer its worst showing ever.

The 43-year-old Gandhi, grandson of former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, may have matinee-idol looks, but it is the bearded firebrand Modi, two decades his senior, who possesses the star power.

“I was on a plane and when I told the South Indian guy next to me that I was Gujarati, he said, ‘Oh, you’ve got that very good chief minister,’ ” said Jayesh Parikh, a chemicals entrepreneur and Modi supporter. “He’s done a fantastic job of marketing himself.”

Barreling through India’s legendary red tape, Modi promoted showy infrastructure projects and new factories that helped Gujarat, a traditionally entrepreneurial state, post growth rates and employment figures that outpaced national averages. Ahmedabad, a commercial hub choked with honking rickshaws and new luxury cars, has seen its population jump by half over the last decade, to 6 million people.

Modi’s record was embraced by Indians who watched economic growth slide below 5 percent last year, well behind China’s 7.8 percent, amid rising prices and persistent inflation.

The “Vibrant Gujarat” in Modi’s marketing materials stops, however, at the farthest reaches of the city, where thousands of Muslims displaced by the 2002 riots continue to huddle in relief colonies like Citizen Nagar, disconnected from schools, transportation, medical facilities and basic municipal services.

Suleiman, a sixth-grader when his family was driven from their home, went to live with relatives in another Muslim colony to continue his studies. Most students just dropped out, he said. The warren of concrete shacks and unpaved streets fills every afternoon with young men his age lazing on rusted chairs and idle rickshaws, with no jobs to go to.

In the home he shares with his parents and three other family members, a dug-out latrine serves as the bathroom. Only recently, after a monthslong campaign by social workers and residents, did the city begin sending two trucks of potable water daily to the slum’s 200 families.

The difference between his neighborhood and a more prosperous one, Suleiman said, was simple.

“Go to any Hindu area and you’ll see running water, street lights, paved roads,” he said. “In all the Muslim areas, nothing has changed.”

Over the last decade, Ahmedabad has become one of India’s most segregated cities. While Hindus and Muslims live apart from each other in many parts of India — and communal violence breaks out periodically — in Ahmedabad the divisions are more systematic and even supported by law.

After Hindu-Muslim clashes in 1991, Gujarati authorities enacted a policy known as the Disturbed Areas Act, which restricted the sale of a home in a riot-affected area to a member of another religious community. The law was aimed at preventing distress sales of property, but over time it has enforced barriers between Hindus, the overwhelming majority, and Muslims, who make up about one-seventh of Ahmedabad’s population.

Last year, Modi’s government expanded the areas covered by the law to about 40 percent of the city.

“Relations between the communities are not normal,” said Rajiv Shah, the former political editor in Gujarat for the Times of India, the country’s leading daily newspaper. “There is no interaction between Hindus and Muslims except at very high income levels” — where money trumps religion.

Inamul Iraki, a Muslim entrepreneur and philanthropist who ran relief camps after the 2002 riots, said Modi had become more tolerant over the last decade.

Of the riot victims, Iraki said: “Some things we will have to leave behind. In this life, how far can you go by clinging to the past?” His business partner is a prominent BJP leader in the state.

Residents of Citizen Nagar remain unconvinced. Modi has rarely visited the relief camps in the 13 years he has led Gujarat and never expressed remorse for the deaths of Muslims.

“Is he not the reason we’re suffering for all these years?” asked 45-year-old Reshma Sayyed. “We can never trust him.”

AFP Photo