LONDON- More than a dozen of India's most respected artists and academics - including the novelist Salman Rushdie and the sculptor Anish Kapoor - have written to the Guardian to express their "acute worry" at the prospect of Narendra Modi, the controversial Hindu nationalist politician, becoming the country's prime minister.
The letter to the Guardian, also signed by British lawyers, activists and three members of parliament, says that Modi becoming prime minister would "bode ill for India's future as a country that cherishes the ideals of inclusion and protection for all its peoples and communities". "The underlying worry is that Modi will move to a more and more Hindu state and that is a worry many people share and is not particular to those who signed the letter," said Kapoor, who was born and brought up in India and now lives in London. "The India I grew up in took a secular, pluralist view. The other India is partisan. Here is someone who knows how to galvanise the mythological part of our Indian psyche with potentially terrifying consequences," he said.
The letter highlights "the role played by the Modi government in the horrifying events that took place in the western state of Gujarat in 2002." Modi was chief minister of Gujarat when a fire broke out on a train carrying Hindu pilgrims, killing 59 people. The incident, blamed on local Muslims, sparked widespread rioting across the state in one of the worst outbreaks of sectarian violence in India for decades. Government ministers later told parliament around 1,000 people, largely Muslims, had been murdered by mobs. The dead included three British nationals.
Modi has been accused of failing to stop the violence and even encouraging rioters. He has denied the charges and a series of inquiries have found insufficient evidence to substantiate the accusations against him. One of Modi's close aides has however been convicted along with members of hardline Hindu nationalist groups. The letter to the Guardian says Modi has repeatedly refused to "acceptresponsibility or render an apology." "Such a failure of moral character and political ethics is incompatible with India's secular constitution, which, is founded on pluralist principles," it reads.
Other signatories of the letter include eminent Indian left-wing economist Prabhat Patnaik, artists Dayanita Singh and Vivan Sundaram, art historian Geeta Kapur and Canada-based film maker Deepa Mehta who recently collaborated with Rushdie on a film version of his novel Midnight's Children.
The British government ended a boycott of Modi by senior diplomats in 2012. The European Union and US have now ended their own boycotts, though a ban on entry to the US remains. "I was very sad to see British parliamentarians extend an offer to Modi for
him to talk to parliament, and the Indian business community in the UK bend over backwards," said Kapoor, who has been knighted in the UK and been awarded the Padma Bushan, one of India's highest civilian honours.
Chetan Bhatt, a professor of sociology at the London School of Economics and a signatory of the letter, told the Guardian: "Modi perfectly embodies a callous, dangerous and authoritarian ideology that stands opposed to genuine liberal, democratic and secular values that founded the modern state of India." Others, such as the economist Patnaik, said they were worried by the support of major businesses for Modi. Jayati Ghosh, another respected leftwing economist and signatory to the letter said "corporate India has decided they want this man" to win a "watershed election".