Silicon Valley welcomes the Indian Prime Minister!*
* And promises not to mention the pogroms, or the human rights abuses, or the State Department visa blacklisting. Whatevs!
India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi is coming to Silicon Valley this weekend.
Judging by the excitement his visit is causing, you’d think it was the Pope himself.
Bloomberg hailed it as historic moment, pointing out that “No Indian prime minister has visited California in more than 30 years.” San Jose’s own Mercury News dug even deeper back in time, declaring that Modi’s visit will be “the most highly anticipated since Jawaharlal Nehru, the anti-colonial hero and first prime minister, addressed an overflow crowd at UC Berkeley's Greek Theatre in 1949.” Nehru was a revolutionary leader who helped India break away from the British Empire. So Modi’s visit has to be huge, right?
Modi has a tightly packed schedule: Over just a few days, he is expected to visit Google, Tesla, Facebook and more. At Facebook, Mark Zuckerburg will host a “townhall” Q&A session with the Indian leader, to be broadcast on Indian public TV. “Prime Minister Modi and I will discuss how communities can work together to address social and economic challenges,” Zuck announced in a Facebook post, writing that he was “excited” and that it was an “honor” to host the event.
Sundar Pichai, Google’s newly minted CEO, released a pre-recorded welcome message in anticipation of Modi’s visit: “There is a tremendous excitement for you amongst all Googlers and the entire Indian community.” He praised the leader’s “Digital India” plan to plug India’s 1.2 billion people into to the Internet, calling it “revolutionary.”
But not everyone in Silicon Valley buzzing with positive vibes for Narendra Modi.
The Alliance for Justice and Accountability (AJA) — a coalition of Indian and Muslim groups — put up giant billboards across the Bay Area and in the heart of Silicon Valley denouncing “Modi’s Regressive Agenda.” The group also launched a campaign called “ModiFail” to “educate Silicon Valley on Modi’s human rights record.”
“We Stand Against Modi’s Regressive Agenda.”
Front and center: Modi’s role in fomenting and enabling a series of bloody and nightmarish anti-Muslim pogroms Indian state of Gujarat.
Until 2014, when Modi and his ultranationalist Bharatiya Janata Party won a landslide victory, he had been on the State Department “visa blacklist” and barred from entering the country for nearly a decade. The reason? In 2002, when Modi was the chief minister ruling the state of Gujarat, deadly anti-Muslim pogroms broke out under his watch, killing and wounding thousands, and leading to the internal displacement of over 200,000 Muslims. The violence was horrific and lasted for weeks. Women, men, children and the elderly were shot, hacked apart, beaten to death and burned alive. Women were raped. Those who were pregnant had their stomachs slit open, fetuses ripped out and burned. Businesses and homes were looted and set on fire. An estimated quarter million people — mostly impoverished Muslims — were driven from their homes and ghettoized.
The story of 72-year-old Muslim MP named Ehsan Jafri is particularly gruesome and telling: Jafri — a member of a rival political party — repeatedly called Modi for help from his compound, which had been surrounded and where dozens of Muslims were taking refuge during the violence. Modi’s people could not be reached — and no help came. Eventually, a Hindu mob tore down the gates, demanded Jafri come out of the house and then proceeded to literally chop him up: cutting off his fingers, arms, legs, then tearing open his belly and finally burning his lifeless body. Dozens of other Muslims in Jafri’s compound were murdered and raped. Later on, an investigative committee ruled that her husband had "provoked" the mob into dismembering and murdering him.
"What happened in Gujarat was not a spontaneous uprising, it was a carefully orchestrated attack against Muslims," says Smita Narula, senior South Asia researcher for Human Rights Watch. "The attacks were planned in advance and organized with extensive participation of the police and state government officials.”
Modi has repeatedly refused to acknowledge, let alone apologize for, the deadly pogroms. And his violent anti-Muslim track record has followed him and his party to him to national office. Since taking power in a landslide election, Modi has appointed to his cabinet one minister implicated in inciting last year's deadly anti-Muslim pogrom in Uttar Pradesh that killed 60 people, mostly Muslims, and forced tens of thousands to flee their homes. Modi's minority affairs minister already declared that Muslims are not a minority, and declared that she was thinking of cutting government aid programs aimed at Muslims — who make up about 13 percent of India’s population. Modi’s government has also banned 13,000 NGOs and human rights groups, increased Internet censorship and is trying to rewrite India’s history books to be inline with with Hindu nationalist ideology and mythology. And that’s just scratching the surface…
Despite Modi’s troubling track record, Silicon Valley’s seems to have nothing but love for the man.
Big tech’s crush on Modi might have something to do with Modi’s program of economic deregulation and “reform” — in particular, his desire to open up India’s lucrative market to Silicon Valley companies like eBay and Google. As one Indian-American businessman put it: “Modi is the Ronald Reagan of India.”
Pando's own Mark Ames has done amazing reporting on the subject, uncovering the deep ties and merging political interests of Silicon Valley megacorps and Narendra Modi and India's Hindu supremacist right — showing how American tech companies, led in part by eBay billionaire Pierre Omidyar, have thrown their support behind Modi and even helped him get elected in an attempt to get in on India’s closed and largely undeveloped e-commerce ecosystem.
Want to know more about the cozy relationship between Narendra Modi and Silicon Valley? Check out some of Pando’s reporting…