Several prominent academics of Ahmedabad have written an open letter protesting against the construction of the wall near the Indira Bridge in the city in order to “hide the slums from the eyes of the VVIP visitors to Ahmedabad.” The letter, interestingly, does not say that the wall has been constructed in the wake of the proposed visit of US president Donald Trump, allegedly in order to “hide” the sight of poverty during his three-hour visit to the city on February 24.
“If the government is ashamed of the slums, it should improve them, rather than demean them by hiding them from the VVIPs”, the letter, signed, among others, by Indian Institute of Management-Ahmedabad (IIM-A) faculty Navdeep Mathur, Sebastian Morris Ankur Sarin and Reetika Khera, veteran economist Prof Indira Hirway, and political scientist Prof Ghanshyam Shah, states. It demands breaking of the wall, and allocating funds from the public exchequer for slum improvement.
“We also take this opportunity to oppose the awfully expensive ‘festivals’ that the government organizes frequently in the state. This is nothing else but utter wastage of public funds for the happiness of a few top leaders in the country. Such expenditure must be avoided”, the letter says.
In a parallel development, Neeta Mahadev, well-known Gandhian activist, has floated an online petition, called Letter Opposition to Namaste Trump, which, even as condemning the construction of the half-a-kilometre wall and eviction notices to 45 families that have been residing in Motera for the past 20 years, takes strong exception to the Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation spending Rs 85 crore to facilitate President Trump’s three three-hour visit. The petition seeks signatures by Saturday.
“For those who have lived in Gujarat for the past decades, this privileging of foreign capital over local needs is sadly familiar”, the letter says, adding, “Large infrastructure projects, the most glaring example being the Sabarmati Riverfront Development Project, have time and again resulted in mass evictions and displacement, in the name of attracting foreign direct Investment.”
Pointing out that the Vibrant Gujarat business summits were “likewise promoted as a mechanism to attract foreign business, thus further enriching the elites of the city”, the letter says, “In all of this development, many have been left behind”, adding, “Alongside evicting vulnerable communities in the name of beautification, Gujarat has witnessed wide-scale violence against its minorities, increasing ghettoisation and the systematic erosion of democratic values, which continues today.”
While Howdy Modi event in US allowed thousands to protest, Indian state has preempted expression of dissent before Namaste Trump
The letter continues, “In addition to blatant attempts to create an illusion of a prosperous city, the state has reportedly instructed the police to deny permissions for protest for 15 days prior to Trump’s visit, infringing on the fundamental rights enshrined in the Constitution.”
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Recalling that the “Howdy Modi” event in the US allowed thousands of protestors, the letter regrets, “The Indian state chooses to preempt any expression of dissent before Namaste Trump”, adding, “Both India and the US have seen the rise of authoritarian politics in recent years, with Modi and Trump at the helm.”
Calling Trump “unreservedly racist, Islamophobic, xenophobic and anti-poor since before he entered office. In the past year alone, an unprecedented 69,550 migrant children were separated from their families and held in government custody”, the letter notes, “The list of detained migrants included 52 Indian nationals, one of whom died in US custody in May of last year.”
It says, “Meanwhile, India is set to enact a National Register of Citizens (NRC), which members of the European Union have warned could precipitate the largest statelessness crisis in the world”, adding, “While Trump enacted a ban against refugees and migrants from several Muslim-majority countries, India has enacted Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), a law barring Muslims from neighbouring Muslim-majority countries from receiving expedited citizenship offered to other minority groups.”
Pointing out that “with a spectacular rise in global fascism today, this alignment between the largest democracy in the world and the most powerful one is dangerous not only for India, but for the world as a whole”, the letter says, “We cannot in good conscience support this alliance between forces that are attempting to erode democracy and curb freedom of speech and religion.”
“We cannot stand by as families are deprived of their homes in order to make room for those who wish to remove citizens from their countries”, the letter says, adding, “We unequivocally condemn this fascist alliance, and urge the Indian State to prioritise the needs of its citizens over the greed of the global elite.”