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Wednesday, Oct 05, 2022
Outlook.com
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Opinion

The Hidden Persuaders

While the CAG received considerable publicity and credit for the denial of visa to Modi, the role of the USCIRF and Christian fundamentalist groups close to the neo-cons, such as the IRPP, PIFRAS and IRD, has not received enough attention.

The Hidden Persuaders
| AP
The Hidden Persuaders
outlookindia.com
-0001-11-30T00:00:00+05:53

While the organisation called the Coalition Against Genocide (CAG) received considerable publicity and credit for the US government's decision to reject the request of Narendra Modi, Gujarat's Chief Minister, for a visa to visit the US, it was the behind-the-scene role of four organisations, one of them associated with the US government and the remaining three known for their proximity to the so-called neo-conservatives, which would seem to have ultimately turned the scale against Modi despite initial reservations in the US State Department over the wisdom of refusing a visa to him. One of these three organisations has been playing an active role in Iraq in providing humanitarian relief to the local Christians and in mobilising the support of the Iraqi Christians for the interim government and the US occupation authorities.

The organisation associated with the government is the US Commission on International Religious Freedom, set up by an Act of Congress in 1998. It has nine members, three each nominated by the President and the two political parties. It monitors the state of religious freedom in the rest of the world and periodically reports its conclusions to the administration and the Congress, with recommendations for action against countries perceived as indulging in gross violations of the religious freedom of different sections of their population.

Since September 30, 2002, it has been drawing the attention of the State Department to the violent incidents in Gujarat in March, 2002, to the alleged role of the Bharatiya Janata Partry (BJP) and the Rashtriya Swayam Sevak Sangh (RSS) cadres in the anti-Muslim and anti-Christian incidents of violence reported from different parts of India, in general, and from Gujarat in particular and to the measures enacted by the governments of Gujarat, Orissa and Tamil Nadu to prevent the forcible conversion of Hindus to Christianity and Islam.

It had been recommending that the time had come for including India in the list of "Countries of Particular Concern" from the point of view of violation of religious freedom. The State Department had been avoiding accepting its recommendation, pointing out the vibrant role played in India by the civil society, the media, the judiciary, NGOs and institutions such as the National Human Rights Commission, the National Minorities Commission etc in exposing instances of violation of the religious freedom of the minorities and acts of violence directed against them. Colin Powell, the then Secretary of State, Richard Armitage, the then Deputy Secretary of State, and their colleagues were reportedly of the view that it would be inappropriate to club India in this regard with countries such as Saudi Arabia, China etc.

The Commission also was not unanimous in its recommendations, with four of the nine members, including Preeta Bansal, its current Chairperson, reflecting the then prevailing view in the State Department about the inappropriateness of any action against India. One of the reasons for the reluctance of the State Department to act against India was the emerging strategic relationship with India since the BJP-led coalition came to power, its anxiety to retain a measure of moderating influence over New Delhi at a time of high tension in Indo-Pakistan relations in the wake of the terrorist attack on the Indian Parliament in December, 2001, and the hopes of the Pentagon that the BJP-led government would be favourably inclined to its request to send a division of the Indian Army to Iraq to assist the US-led occupation forces in the restoration of normalcy.

It is said that when L.K. Advani, India's then home minister and Deputy Prime Minister, had visited Washington DC in June, 2003, he had given cause for hope during his meeting with Donald Rumsfeld, the US Defence Secretary, that India would be sending a Division to Iraq. The subsequent volte face of the BJP under public and opposition pressure caused considerable disappointment in the State Department and made it more receptive to the recommendations of the Commission on International Religious Freedom. Despite this, it is said, the State Department was disinclined to accept the demand of the Commission and a group of members of the Congress led by Joe Pitts (Republican from Pennsylvania) that Mr.Modi be denied a visa.

Amongst the Christian organisations, which then reportedly sought the intervention of  Richard Cheney, the Vice-President, in the matter are the Institute on Religion and Public Policy (IRPP) headed by Mr.Joseph K. Grieboski, the Policy Institute for Religion and State (PIFRAS) and the Institute on Religion and Democracy (IRD).

The IRPP, which projects itself as an independent organisation seeking to promote inter-religious harmony and religious freedom, has been essentially focussing on the alleged violations of the human rights of the Christians in India. It has been accusing the previous BJP-led Government as well as the present Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government of failing to protect the human rights of the Christians.

The IRPP has close networking with Benjamin Marsh, Washington Director of the Dalit Freedom Network, who is a Resident Fellow at the IRPP and reportedly helps it in drafting its reports to the State Department, the office of  Cheney and Congressmen on the state of religious freedom in India. In a press statement issued on September 8, 2004, it said: 

"Violent attacks on religious minorities in recent weeks indicate that continuous violence marring the reign of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government will continue despite the defeat of the BJP in national elections in May. Benjamin Marsh, Washington Director of the Dalit Freedom Network and a Resident Fellow at the Institute on Religion and Public Policy, commented, "Despite our hopes that the threat of violence against religious minorities would subside, nothing seems to have changed." 

On August 22, armed assailants attacked and beat up, a parish priest, Father John Sunderam, in Kubbu in Jharkhand state’s Lohardaga district. The attack left him in a coma and left another priest, Father Albanus Tirkey, in the hospital with injuries.

On August 26, a group of 300 Hindu fundamentalists stormed the Church of Our Lady of Charity in the town of Raikia, in Orissa. The attackers burst into the church and burned Bibles while tearing down the Tabernacle and destroying statues of saints. Police was present but did not intervene. 

August 28, Father Job Chittilappilly was killed at his parish in the town of Thuruthiparambu in Kerala. Recent phone calls threatening him because of his pastoral activities among Hindu families leading up to the attack suggests that the murder was premeditated. 

Also on August 28, six people were hurt in blasts at two mosques in western India as unidentified men on motorcycles hurled bombs in Jalna town and the Parbhani district in Maharashtra.

The Institute on Religion and Public Policy and the Dalit Freedom Network condemn these attacks on religious minorities in India and condemn the extremist Hindu nationalism that is at the core of the problem. Institute President Joseph K. Grieboski added, "India continues to grow as an economic and military power without enforcing existing human rights legislation. The Institute calls on the Congress-led government to provide protection and promotion of the rights of all peoples in India – irrespective of their religious affiliation – and to work actively against extremist elements in state governments. "

The IRPP played a very active role in mobilising the support of a number of Christian fundamentalist groups and other non-governmental organisations and sent a joint letter to Condoleezza Rice, Secretary of State, in February, 2005, demanding that Modi be not allowed to visit the USA. It is said that it also took up the matter with the offices of Cheney and many Congressmen and through them sought to exercise pressure on the State Department on this issue.

The PIFRAS is reportedly very close to the neo-conservatives, Cheney and the Pentagon. It has been allowed to open an office inside the US-military protected green zone in Baghdad in order to work among the Iraqi Christians. Its Executive Director is John Prabhudoss. Four teams of the PIFRAS headed by Prabhudoss have so far visited Iraq since its occupation under the PIFRAS' Art of Governance programme in order to promote good governance in Iraq. The first visit was in July, 2003. It has opened its West Asian headquarters in Amman in order to work closely with the US authorities for the promotion of democracy in the region.

In a report on the fourth visit of a PIFRAS team to Baghdad, Mr. Prabhudoss said: 

"Members of the PIFRAS team established further contacts in the US military, specifically with the office of the Iraqi Assistance Center in an effort to ease the difficulties in establishing our program and to learn more about what else is being done in Iraq, to fine-tune the AOG program. Additionally, PIFRAS met with individuals from various CPA (Coalition Provisional Authority) offices and staffs to further the organization’s understanding of the bureaucratic process and to get the institute’s name out. One individual met with, Dr. Ghoughassian, is the head of the CPA’s Ministry of Higher Education. He strongly supports the program and has been a long-time supporter of the AOG program. Finally, we met with Ambassador Jones, the deputy administrator under Ambassador Bremer. He gave PIFRAS a letter of appreciation and acknowledgement for the work being done in Iraq. The PIFRAS team was able to acquire space in the Green Zone for future offices. Through the help of the office, PIFRAS was able to find space that fits the needs of the AOG program in Iraq."

Its work in Iraq has brought the PIFRAS and Prabhudoss in close contact with the Pentagon, Cheney and other neo-conservatives and they reportedly used this successfully to press their request for the denial of a visa to Modi. Prabhudoss, who has reportedly many contacts in the US Congress, has also been active in the field of Indo-Pakistan relations and has been urging a close US involvement in promoting a solution to the Kashmir problem between India and Pakistan. Last year, he had reportedly led a team of peace activists to Pakistan in this connection.

Reportedly at the urging of Prabhudoss and others, Congressman Joe Pitts from Pennsylvania, who mobilised a number of Congressmen to write to the State Department not to issue a visa to Modi, has also joined Congressman Kevin Brady from Texas and Congressman David E.Bonior of Michigan to form a Kashmir Forum in the Congress to create a better understanding of the Kashmir issue among Congressmen. Pitts has also been demanding the appointment of a Special Envoy on the Kashmir issue by the State Department similar to the Special Envoy on the Palestine issue.

The IRD, which projects itself as "an ecumenical alliance of U.S. Christians working to reform their churches’ social agenda, in accord with biblical and historic Christian teachings, thereby contributing to the renewal of democratic society at home and abroad," has been campaigning against leftist crusades, radical forms of feminism, environmentalism, pacifism, multi-culturalism, revolutionary socialism and sexual liberation.

The IRD actually started with a political and not a religious agenda under the name the Foundation for Democratic Education, which was the financial arm of the Coalition for a Democratic Majority (CDM). It was founded by neoconservative supporters of Sen. Henry "Scoop" Jackson, the mentor of  Richard Perle, who was the head of the Defence Policy Advisory Board till the Iraq war and is considered one of the architects of the regime-change policy. The CDM has been described by its critics as "a political project that aimed to unseat the progressive "New Politics" sector of the Democratic Party in the 1970s and reassert the control of Cold Warriors like Jackson." During the tenure of Ronald Reagan , the IRD started propagating a politico-religious agenda and stressing the importance of Christian morality to promote militant anticommunism and the conservative variety of internationalism advanced by the neoconservatives.

Three leading neoconservatives founded the IRD in 1981: Michael Novak of the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) with which Mrs.Cheney is reportedly connected; Richard Neuhaus, who was then an associate of the Ethics and Public Policy Center (EPPC); and Penn Kemble, one of the leaders of the right-wing Social Democrats/USA.

During the 1980s the IRD attempted to rally U.S. Christians around a program of higher military budgets and military campaigns against the Soviet Union and allied countries such as Nicaragua, Angola, and Cuba. It raised funds for the jihad against the Soviet troops in Afghanistan. It backed U.S. military aid and intervention in Central America and the Caribbean during the Reagan administration, and it criticised Christians who didn’t share its militarism and interventionist policies.

It has also been a strong supporter of regime changes in Iraq and Iran. While the IRD did not subscribe to any of the joint statements and letters demanding that a visa be refused to Modi, it is reported to have played an active behind-the-scene role through its contacts in the neo-conservative establishment to press the State Department to refuse a visa. 


B. Raman is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai, and Distinguished Fellow and Convenor, Observer Research Foundation (ORF), Chennai Chapter .

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