IMC-USA Protests at the Asian American Hotel Owners Association Convention
March 26, 2005: The Indian Muslim Council-USA along with other member and supporting organizations of the Coalition Against Genocide (CAG) held a Victory for Pluralism campaign in Fort Lauderdale, FL to mark the US State Department’s revocation of US visa for Narendra Modi, a noted human rights abuser. The campaign included campus Teach-in sessions, a screening of award winning documentary Final Solution and concluded with a Press Conference held outside the Broward County Convention center hosting the Asian American Hotel Owners Association’s (AAHOA) annual convention.
Narendra Modi, the chief minister of the Indian state of Gujarat, is widely accused by Indian and international human rights organizations of presiding over State assisted massacres where over 2,000 Muslims were killed. The Gujarat pogrom of 2002 also saw ethnic cleansing efforts in the form of rape and sexual mutilation of hundreds of women and children and displacement of 150,000 people from their homes. He was invited by AAHOA as the guest of honor for its annual convention. After a sustained campaign by Coalition Against Genocide, the US State Department cited targeted religious persecution of non-Hindus and revoked Narendra Modi’s visa under the International Religious Freedom Act.
Addressing the press conference, Divya Sharma, the local representative of Amnesty International at Broward County, FL said:"There has to be specific legislation by the state and central governments in India to protect victims from recurrent religious violence and provide expedited judicial redress". Remarking on the participation of state machinery in the Gujarat pogrom and the absence of subsequent legal redress, she added, "The officials who were in charge at the time of the Gujarat violence need to be investigated and closely scrutinized for their lack of action."
Governor Jeb Bush and the Mayor of Ft. Lauderdale, who were both invited and expected to attend the AAHOA convention, did not show up. Narendra Modi’s speech was videocast during AAHOA’s convention by the AAHOA leadership despite dissension from within the Association’s membership. About 30 attendees walked out of the convention when Narendra Modi started to speak. Several convention attendees and AAHOA members expressed support for CAG and IMC-USA’s campaign against Narendra Modi. M. A. Khan, Outreach Director of IMC-USA, responded to this support during the conference, stating, "AAHOA leadership needs to do some soul searching now that the US State Department and US Congress have reprimanded Modi. AAHOA members have also expressed dissatisfaction at the stance of AAHOA leadership."
Addressing the conference, Ali Rahman of IMC-USA Florida chapter, refuted claims made by Hindutva activists and Modi supporters that the denial of a visa to Modi was an insult to India. He said, "It has been three years since the Gujarat massacres, but the perpetrators have not been brought to justice as yet. This denial of justice is an insult to the constitution of India, not the denial of visa to Modi on account of these massacres."
During the sustained campaign by CAG against Narendra Modi’s visit, leading up to the AAHOA convention, several important and noted figures and associations disassociated with AAHOA. These include the MSNBC Hardball host, Chris Matthews who was to share the stage with Modi and Congressman Kendrick Meek, who was expected to host a dinner reception for Modi at the AAHOA convention. In addition, American Express, Intercontinental, Hilton, Best Western, Cendant, Choice Hotels, Carlson Hospitality Worldwide, Home Depot, and USFS — a leading franchising group for many hotels owned by AAHOA, withdrew sponsorship of the convention. The US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) also expressed "deep concern" over Narendra Modi’s visit. A letter to the US State Department by 21 congressmen urging denial of Modi’s visa followed by a congressional resolution condemning Modi’s human rights abuses finally culminated in the revocation of Modi’s visa by the US State Department.
The events and press conference were organized by the Florida chapter of IMC-USA and had participation and support from CAG. The members of CAG and other campaign participants include women’s groups, human rights organizations, representatives of Hindu, Christian, Muslim and Sikh communities as well as organizations of secular persuasion. The campaign was successful in reaching out to the Florida community, AAHOA members and the media about the plight of the victims of Gujarat pogroms. It also educated them about Narendra Modi and his supporters sectarian politics bolstered by the hate-based Hindutva ideology.