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Home Reports The journey of anti-CAA virus in the U.S.: A tale of three cities

The journey of anti-CAA virus in the U.S.: A tale of three cities

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agarwalvj
Born in village Kotah (Saharanpur), Vijendra Agarwal, left India in 1973 after Ph.D. (Physics) from IIT Roorkee but always remained connected with his roots. A researcher in Italy, Japan, and France, he came to the US in 1978. He served as faculty and academic administrator (Assistant Vice President, Associate Vice Chancellor, and Dean of the College of Science and Engineering) in several universities, and an Executive Fellow in the White House S&T Policy during Clinton administration. Following his voluntary retirement in 2014, he and his wife co-founded a US-based NGO, Vidya Gyan, to serve rural India toward education, health, and empowerment of girls and overall development. An Indian at heart, his passion for writing has no boundaries. This includes policy, politics and people, and social/cultural activities promoting community engagement. Currently, he is the Brand Ambassador for Times of India and frequently blogs on Linkedin on various topics.
 

I was in India when the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) was passed by the Parliament on December 7, 2019. Numerous protests across India including the deadly one in Delhi during Trump visit happened when I was still there. Returning to the U.S. on March 9 and leaving behind the vivid images of death and destruction during the protests, little did I know that the anti-CAA virus had quietly made its way to the United States already. The unprecedented COVID-19 was consuming our attention until I became aware in early May about the city council(CC) of Saint Paul considering an anti CAA resolution.

My first reaction- so what? When I researched the issue a bit further, I was surprised and shocked that Saint Paul was the third city after Seattle and Cambridge where the anti-CAA virus had already passed through the CCs. With my strong Hindu instincts and to rightfully defend the CAA, I got involved to have the anti-CAA resolution defeated in Saint Paul but failed. Subsequently, I became deeply engaged about the tale of these three cities- what, when, why, and who were behind the resolution? Here is my analysis of how the story unfolded in the U.S. in the last six months.

Coincidentally, Seattle had the first death due to COVID 19 and the first battleground for the anti-CAA virus. While the contagious coronavirus affected millions globally, the anti-CAA virus, thus far, had reached three cities to willfully malign India as an Islamophobic country. There are indications that Hinduphobic organizations like Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR), Equality Labs, Amnesty International USA have plans to spread the virus to dozens of cities, one at a time.

The narrative and interpretation of CAA may have varied slightly in different cities but the resolution seeks India to withdraw unconstitutional CAA and NRC (National Register of Citizens). The ignorant councilors called CAA “unconstitutional” which was voted affirmatively in India’s Lower and Upper Houses, signed by President and affirmed to be constitutional by India’s Supreme Court. The nationwide NRC has not even been discussed by the Parliament but the misguided CCs, oceans away, without checking facts, assumed NRC the law of the land.

Despite attempts by the proponents of CAA, the councilors did not care to draw a parallel between India’s CAA and America’s Lautenberg Law. Both allow fast-track pathways to citizenship for certain groups of people facing religious persecution. The intense advocacy by interest groups, with strong ties to extremism and jihadi philosophy, blinded the CCs through selective media snippets of protests in India as if the Muslims were being victimized. The fact that the violent protests were instigated by Muslim and/or opposition leaders which led to a diversion of traffic for months and caused death and destruction were shielded. The CC was not told about the elimination of Triple Talaq to restore Muslim women’s dignity; the atrocities on minority religions, e.g., Hindus, Sikhs, and Christians in Pakistan including forced conversion to Islam and heinous acts of sexual violence. How could anyone forget 9-11 and numerous acts of terrorism by the jihadist elements globally? Who was hiding Bin Laden for years and harboring terrorism?

While the anti-CAA virus traveled from Delhi to Seattle through the information highway, how and why did it travel from Seattle to other cities? Interestingly, the interstate connecting Seattle to Cambridge (over 7000 kilometers) passes through Saint Paul but the virus traveled first to Cambridge and then retraced its way back to Saint Paul. Seattle had the resolution passed on February 3 followed by Cambridge on February 10 and in Saint Paul on May 20. It seems that the virus traveled at the lightning speed from Seattle to Cambridge within a week but with the speed of sound to Saint Paul about 3 months later. The pandemic in March/April slowed the process in Saint Paul including virtual council meetings. An unfortunate outcome of the virtual meetings was the denial of appearance by the concerned Indian community before the CC. It was the sad demise of the democratic process and the right to free speech with no recourse.

 

The three cities with the anti-CAA virus have some similarities and differences. Among the similarities, all are “blue states,” the citizens and councilors largely Democrats or at least Democratic-leaning in political ideology. The cities have a white majority, modestly populated, globally recognized, and a sizable population of Indian immigrants. Seattle, the largest of all, is home to corporations such as Amazon and Microsoft. Cambridge is home to Harvard and MIT but Boston makes it as high tech and globally known. Finally, Saint Paul, the capital of Minnesota, with twin relationship to Minneapolis, has equally major corporations as the other two.

The resolution verbiage started, “reaffirming Seattle as a welcoming city, expressing the Seattle City Council’s solidarity with Seattle’s South Asian community regardless of religion and caste, and opposing India’s National Register of Citizens and Citizenship Amendment Act “ except the name of the city. The resolution rhetoric: discrimination against Muslims, violation of the country’s secular constitution, and Modi unilaterally repealing a constitutional amendment (Article 370). What was conveniently forgotten? That the 370 was “temporary” to begin which made millions of non-Muslims in Kashmir homeless and protected the autonomy of Muslim-majority far too long. The repeal of 370 was long overdue to make Kashmir like other States and Union Territories under ONE India.

What was different? The crusade in Seattle was led by a CC member and socialist Kshama Sawant of Indian descent. She had it going quietly with a possibility of 9-0 vote until the pro-CAA Indian Americans got the wind of her motives. Reportedly, ~ 500 people showed up at the City Hall on the day of council hearing. They succeeded in changing the mind of at least 4 councilors not to vote in favor of the resolution; a significant victory with little time for advocacy. I cannot fathom that a Hindu immigrant will embrace Hindu phobic ideology and lead an anti-India campaign to seek a stage for her future political dreams. I do recognize a growing need for Indian Americans to enter the political landscape of the U.S. but not at the expense of love for the country which gave them life.

 

In Cambridge, the anti-CAA activism was led by none other than the Mayor, Sumbul Siddiqui, an immigrant of Pakistani descent. Perhaps we need to say no more. She found many allies to discredit India including at least one opportunist Indian Muslim, raised and educated on Indian soil but stabbing the land of his birth. I saw both Muslims and Hindus protesting in India but it saddened me to see people discrediting their own country of birth on the foreign soil? Perhaps, the anti CAA campaign was brewing quietly at the behest of Pakistan born Mayor with fewer people getting its wind in Cambridge. She managed to get the resolution passed unanimously, a rude awakening for the CAA backers The untold truth is that most Indian professionals go about their routine and even if someone mentioned about anti CAA resolution, their natural reaction may have been, like my own, so what and how does it matter?

When the anti-CAA fervor reached Saint Paul, Jane Prince was the main sponsor who admitted having been working closely with the Minnesota chapter of CAIR since February/March. Seattle and Cambridge had similar hardcore pro-Islamic organizations with a highly organized and well-oiled smear campaign against India. To the best of my knowledge, Jane Prince and two co-sponsors of Hmong descent had little knowledge about India. What motivated them is a mystery? Clearly, these three affirmative votes and a councilor of Islamic faith were enough for the passage of the resolution in 7-member CC.

However, we continued letter writing, emailing, and a couple of virtual meetings with councilors to educate them. We also had peaceful protests following social distancing and assembly restrictions. It made a difference that two councilors abstained and the resolution passed 5-0. The nexus and vote bank politics between Somali and Hmong refugees for future electioneering, prompted by higher political circles, may have aided the outcome we had. One cannot exclude the possibility of Sant Paul Mayor, a person of Muslim faith, playing a role under the influence of CAIR and Congresswoman Ilhan Omar of Somali descent.

In my informed view, the India Association of Minnesota (IAM), a face of India to businesses, government, and political world in the Twin Cities since 1973, failed the community. In fact, IAM’s response lacked the compelling point by point rebuttal to the flawed resolution and a sense of urgency not to take it forward. Many influential Indian Americans in Minnesota with deep ties to the local politics, mostly Democrats, did not or could not use their networks for a different outcome. It may not be an overstatement that we Hindus know how not to unite contrary to the united Muslims.

The virus also took a detour to the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) in Washington and misinterpreted the CAA. The USCIRF blamed India for discrimination against Muslims and failed to recognize India’s longstanding religious tolerance and is home to practically every faith on the Earth. I deplore USCIRF for designating India a Country of Particular Concern. Sovereign India must define her own destiny and manage her affairs. Has the U.S. reviewed her own past and present practices about the lack of social justice and equality for all?

All in all, the anti-CAA virus gave every opportunist a platform to promote their agenda by discrediting the world’s largest democracy and home for peace, tolerance, and religious freedom. Every actor was seeking a stage using a similar playbook with unsubstantiated allegations. I wonder, why the cities were not discussing and tackling the racial disparity within their jurisdictions rather than acting as the United Nations without the resources, and diplomatic know-how about a complex international issue like CAA?

What do we learn? A wake-up call for the divided Hindus to unite with a stronger resolve to fight back when attacked again. They must stay active in local governance and seek political offices as appropriate. The “symbolic” anti CAA resolution is perhaps of no consequence in the larger context of India’s domestic and foreign policies, nonetheless an annoying defeat for Indian Americans despite their collective intellectual and financial prowess.

Going forward we must continue advocating and educating about India and, if possible, get the resolutions rescinded. The only Hindu actor, Seattle’s Kshama Sawant (Kshama translates to ‘forgiveness’), should be forgiven for acting so lowly. May she be enlightened to forgive herself for dishonoring her Mother India. Let us hope that CCs will learn and realize that their primary role and responsibility is for the local issues.

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agarwalvj
Born in village Kotah (Saharanpur), Vijendra Agarwal, left India in 1973 after Ph.D. (Physics) from IIT Roorkee but always remained connected with his roots. A researcher in Italy, Japan, and France, he came to the US in 1978. He served as faculty and academic administrator (Assistant Vice President, Associate Vice Chancellor, and Dean of the College of Science and Engineering) in several universities, and an Executive Fellow in the White House S&T Policy during Clinton administration. Following his voluntary retirement in 2014, he and his wife co-founded a US-based NGO, Vidya Gyan, to serve rural India toward education, health, and empowerment of girls and overall development. An Indian at heart, his passion for writing has no boundaries. This includes policy, politics and people, and social/cultural activities promoting community engagement. Currently, he is the Brand Ambassador for Times of India and frequently blogs on Linkedin on various topics.

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