Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s recent visit to Silicon Valley where he held meetings with CEOs of global companies like Google and Face Book, met U.S. lawmakers, and was feted by some 18,000 Indian-American supporters in a spectacular event at SAP Center in San Jose Sept. 27, understandably hogged the media spotlight.
However, while most headlines dwelt on the success of his visit, the protests against Modi government policies got little coverage, although at least 3,000 people staged their opposition outside the SAP Center. These protests were organized by different groups as well as by an umbrella organization, Alliance for Justice and Accountability. On Sept. 23, the AJA sent out a flyer “Unwelcome Modi” declaring the date and time of the demonstration at the Arena Green opposite SAP Cente, Sept. 27, 2 pm to 7 pm.
Large billboards in the city read “Respect India #RejectModi: Say no to human rights abuse,” or “#ModiFail: We Stand Against Modi’s Regressive Agenda” and “Prime Minister Modi stop persecuting religious minorities in India,” as well as “Stop forced religious conversions of Christians & Muslims in India.”
On that day outside the SAP Center, myriad causes were highlighted on placards. One read “Atrocity Nation: #End Caste Apartheid Now.”
A large group of Sikhs carried placards reading “Sikh Referendum: 2020 Campaign.” Lining the road were people holding slogans saying “Modi Believes in Violence Not Development,” Another group held up a sign saying “Justice for Gujarat.” Hindi placards declared “Patidar Anamat Andolan: We Demand Justice.” Another sign held up by a group in green T-shirts said, “Hey Modi Take an #selfie with us LGBT.” Demonstrators staged a “Die In” lying on the floor with signs reading #Babri Masjid. A big sign read “We Stand Against Modi’s Agenda of Hate and Greed.”
All protesters were kept behind police barricades.
Hundreds of pro-Modi demonstrators were also present holding placards reading “East or West-Modi is the Best.”
The AJA in a press release, said it began its protest campaign a month before the Modi visit, among them launching the Twitter handle #Modifail. Also, a week before the Sept. 27 event, under its initiative “Zuck, Wash Your Hands,” about 250 packages containing small bottles of hand sanitizer were sent to Face Book founder Mark Zuckerberg who had organized a Town Hall meeting for Modi. Organizers said the protesters were a “diverse” crowd and that police estimates placed the number at around 3,000 people. One protester who did not wish their name used told News India Times, “We were a coalition of several groups – Hindu progressives, Tamils, queer folk, a group called South Asians Taking Action, Muslims, a group called South Asian sisters, and others.”
Supporters of Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party say protesters were publicity seekers and that protests on domestic Indian issues should not be held outside India when a head of state is visiting.
The protests were “a total hoax” according to Ankur Vaidya, a former officeholder in Overseas Friends of BJP-USA. “They (protesters) are just publicity-seeking people and they will protest if an apple goes bad,” Vaidya said.
Chandrakant Patel, president of OFBJP-USA, told News India Times protests that are about India’s domestic problems should not be held here. “I am against these kinds of protests. The picture of India does not shine in such cases when Prime Minister is visiting,” he said.
“Modi talks about Digital India, while ignoring millions of Digital Indians demanding an end to Internet censorship, restrictions on online privacy, and arrests of social media users,” activist Virali Modi-Parekh is quoted saying in the AJA press release. Another activist Neil Tangri, said the Indian government was attempting to shut down civil society organizations including frontline groups and non-governmental organizations like Greenpeace India and Sierra Club.
“Counter-demonstrations are very hard to put together,” said Prof. Vijay Prashad of Trinity College, one of the signatories of a letter signed by more than 100 academics in the U.S., chastising Silicon Valley CEOs to look more closely at Modi’s Digital India program. “Protesters are not looking for something commensurate to be done about the tragedies. They want to raise questions about injustice,” Prashad said.