San Francisco, CA


Narendra Modi, the Prime Minister of India, visits the San Francisco Bay area this weekend and is being celebrated by sections of the Indian diaspora. Mr. Modi was banned from entry into the United States from 2005 to 2014 on the stated grounds of “assaults on religious freedom” in connection with the 2002 Gujarat massacres, and now visits the country owing to his diplomatic status.


Serious questions continue to persist regarding Mr. Modi’s complicity in encouraging the brutal “ethnic cleansing” of hundreds of thousands of Gujarat’s Muslims by his RSS-affiliated organizations in 2002, and in shielding from prosecution key leaders of these organizations involved in the massacres. Faced with the visit of this controversial figure who became Prime Minister with only 31% of the vote we, the Ghadar Alliance, a U.S.-based coalition of South Asian diasporic groups, take inspiration from the Ghadar movement which is an integral part of the history of the Indian diaspora in the Bay area.


Ghadar was about a revolutionary anti-colonialism that wholeheartedly rejected capitalism, religious sectarianism, and social conservatism. Its politics reflected the militant perspectives of workers and peasants who had made their way to the US and resolved to organize a transnational anti-colonial struggle in order to overthrow the British colonial order. According to Ayesha Kartar Gill, labor activist and granddaughter of original Ghadaris, Ghadar Hall at 5, Wood Street in San Francisco was once “a wonderful, historically important meeting place,” where the party organized, hosted newly arrived Indian students, and published its paper used to mobilize Indians around the world. “After India became independent, the Indian government destroyed Ghadar Hall as we knew it, and the building became less accessible to the Indian community,” says Gill.


To put the radicalism of Ghadar in perspective, consider the fascist Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), founded in 1925, whose vision was thoroughly opposed to a secular, democratic, pluralistic India. The RSS favors the idea of a Hindu supremacist nation in which Muslims, Christians, and other religious minorities would be second class citizens. As such, from its inception, the RSS was uninterested in the anti-colonial struggle of both the Gandhian variety and the revolutionary movements inspired by Ghadar. Modi has served in prominent leadership positions within the RSS and is steeped in the ideological and political vision of that organization; his goals for the nation are far closer to those of the RSS than to Ghadar’s.


Within barely a year of coming into office, Modi’s government has overseen and encouraged a widespread assault on the secular and pluralistic fabric of Indian society. From the assaults on religious freedom through the enacting of anti-conversion legislation to criminalizing inter-religious relationships, from stifling the voices of secular, leftist intellectuals, and empowering sections of the RSS to commit violent terroristic acts against social and cultural critics, the Modi regime cannot but be seen as everything that the Ghadar movement fought against. Consider for example the latest cold-blooded killings of prominent leftist intellectuals such as Professor M.M. Kalburgi,  Govind Pansare and the rationalist Narendra Dhabolkar; the assaults on academic freedoms on college campuses, as in the case of the administration of a prominent academic institution, IIT-Madras, attempting to ban a radical Dalit student organization; or the appointment of RSS ideologues and loyalists to leadership positions at prominent educational and professional institutions across the country: These are just some of the indicators of a disturbing pattern showing a wide-ranging and coordinated assault on the very idea of a pluralistic India.


But the evocation of Ghadar has a contemporary impact not only within South Asia, but in North America too. As a collective that brings together South Asians in North America, we feel it is extremely important to point out that the Ghadarites were representative of a model of citizenship far more radical than the ‘model minority’ vision popularized decades later among South Asian immigrants since the 1960s. To Ghadarites, the need of the hour was to inculcate the liberatory goals of overthrowing colonialism, but since this colonial order was also founded on the principle of racial inequality – evident both in India and in their new home in North America – it was incumbent upon South Asians immigrating to North America to take a principled stand against racism. This legacy is what we wish to recuperate and re-energize within the South Asian diasporic community in North America, especially in this neoliberal moment where the only intervention permitted to the Indian diaspora by the Indian State seems to be one of financial investment in development projects that are premised on massive displacement and destitution of India’s poorest. It is a hallmark of the hypocrisy surrounding the warmth extended by sections of the Indian American community towards Mr. Modi and his supremacist vision, that there is such a sharp contradiction between their own self-image as successful members of a multicultural and inclusive America, and their wholehearted support for the violent destruction of pluralism and secularism in India. We reiterate our unflinching solidarity with efforts to fight for racial justice in North America, and consider this position to be absolutely consistent with our principled opposition to Mr. Modi and his supremacist politics. Only by doing so can we truly claim inspiration from the Ghadar Movement.

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