Protests against Sonia’s UN visit, overseas Congress unfazed

By Parveen Chopra, IANS

New York : A host of organisations have planned protests against Congress president Sonia Gandhi representing India at the UN in New York Oct 2, even as the Indian National Overseas Congress (INOC) here said that “disagreements in a democracy are a healthy sign”.

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India’s ruling Congress chief is scheduled to address the UN General Assembly, which has acknowledged Mahatma Gandhi’s birthday as International Day of Non-Violence.

Protests against the visit have been planned by a newly-floated group, Forum for Saving Gandhi Heritage, and several other organisations. They have announced a peaceful demonstration outside the UN building and a relay fast at Mahatma Gandhi’s statue at Union Square on Oct 2.

The Forum consists of Mahatma Gandhi International Foundation, Indian American Intellectuals Forum, Indo Caribbean Council, Kashmir Pandits Association and others.

But the INOC, the overseas arm of the Congress party, is cool to the planned protests. “We welcome the protest. Disagreements in a democracy are a healthy sign,” said Surinder S. Malhotra, president of INOC (US chapter), at a press briefing here Monday. “But they should maintain decorum.”

The protesting groups contend that Sonia Gandhi is not fit to represent India because she was “in thought, word and deed… a direct contradiction to Mahatma Gandhi”.

“We are trying to save the name of Mahatma Gandhi who stood for ‘Sat’, ‘Tapasya’ and ‘Ahimsa’. We have collected evidence that Sonia Gandhi embodies qualities opposite of these,” said Peter Rao, a member of Forum for Saving Gandhi Heritage.

But Malhotra is unfazed and said it was their view. “We believe Soniaji qualifies because she has spread the message of social harmony in a country of over one billion.”

He said 60 prominent community organisations were supporting the reception being hosted by the INOC in Sonia Gandhi’s honour. These include Indian American federations, organisations representing regions of India, religion-based groups and cultural institutions.

“The invitees’ list of about 3,000 will be largely drawn from these organisations.” The list will be vetted by the US government for security reasons.

But Rao and Shekar Vemala, member of Mahatma Gandhi International Foundation, told IANS that they strongly objected to the protestors being labelled as pro-Hindutva.

They, however, agreed that “some organisations who have joined hands with us may have pro-Hindutva inclination”.

The Indian American Intellectuals Forum (IAIF) had organised the 13th Hindu Unity Day Aug 18 here along with Hindu Temple Society of North America.

The UN General Assembly had declared in June that Mahatma Gandhi’s birthday would be observed as Non-Violence Day from this year onwards.