'As a member of Congress, it was important to meet with Prime Minister Modi. Promoting the India-US relationship is a priority. It is important to have a constructive dialogue with the biggest democracy in the world,' US Congressman Mike Honda tells Ritu Jha/Rediff.com
The Alliance for Justice and Accountability, the organisation that organised a protest during Prime Minister Narendra Modi's community reception outside the SAP Centre in San Jose on September 27, has claimed that United States Congressman Mike Honda, who promised support to their protest, betrayed them.
According to the AJA, the protest was intended to dramatise the attacks against Muslims, Christians, Dalits, women, and other minorities that it alleged occurred with increasing frequency under the Modi administration.
"The protest was to counter the Modi PR machine," Khalid Azam, former vice-president, Indian American Muslim Council, told Rediff.com
The AJA, early on the morning of September 27, released a statement that it had the support of Congressman Honda and his political opponent and fellow Democrat, Ro Khanna. The statement claimed that Honda and Khanna were united in their concerns for human rights in India and would stop by at the AJA protest and say a few words.
Honda never came by to support the protesters. Instead, he was seen on stage with Modi at the SAP Centre event.
"He promised us support and did not stop by, but Ro Khanna did," Azam claimed. Ro Khanna told Rediff.com that he did not stop by at the protest.
"We had several meetings with Congressman Honda and he had said he was undecided about attending Modi's SAP event," Azam added. "We discovered later he was the one who had invited Modi and were stunned to see him on stage with the prime minister."
"I think he has lost the trust of the community, particularly the Muslim base," Azam told Rediff.com, adding, "There are 15,000 registered voters and he has lost that."
When Rediff.com asked Congressman Honda about not showing up at the AJA protest, he responded via e-mail. 'I felt that as a member of Congress, it was important to meet with Prime Minister Modi,' Honda wrote. 'Promoting the India-US relationship is a priority. It is important to have a constructive dialogue with the biggest democracy in the world.'
'Silicon Valley and India are both at the pinnacle of creativity and innovation, and, as the representative of Silicon Valley, I know how important it is to build strong relationships despite differences of opinion,' the Congressman added.
'I have serious concerns over human rights violations in India and around the world and I used the opportunity to raise my concerns with the prime minister,' Honda said.
'It was important that a sitting head of government hear from an elected official in the United States on these issues and understand that we will continue to lead the fight to end civil and human rights abuses worldwide. A foundation must be built so that we are able to use our relationship to end that abuse.'
Ro Khanna -- who will contest the 2016 Congressional election against Honda -- e-mailed a statement of support to AJA, according to the protesters.
'The Indian prime minister's visit to Silicon Valley is a historic opportunity to focus on strengthening the bilateral relationship,' said Khanna who was present at the SAP Center event honouring Prime Minister Modi.
'Any partnership between two great democracies must be rooted in a respect for civic dissent, for human rights, for a robust public square that engages NGOs, and for religious tolerance and liberty,' Khanna added.
'I am confident that the South Asian Diaspora in the United States will help work towards that type of partnership grounded in both nations' founding ideals,' Khanna added.
Of the protesters present was G Sharat Lin, who had also protested when then prime minister Morarji Desai visited UC Berkeley in 1978. "The objective of the protest against Prime Minister Modi is to raise our concerns about the increasing marginalisation of minorities and lower castes under the government," Lin told Rediff.com
Lin said his protest is against what he called the Modi government's assault on NGOs, the prime minister's pro-corporate development agenda, the moves towards enabling full government surveillance of all Internet communications and electronic messaging.