Monday, 19 February 2018

Senior Officer of Swiss Development Cooperation Blacklisted & Unceremonious Deported!

Just at the time when Prime Minister Mr. Narendra Modi in his speech at Davos was exhorting the world to take forward globalization in letter and spirit, the authorities in his home state of Gujarat whose model he keeps on boasting about, were busy deporting a former Swiss Diplomat without any rhyme or reason.

Ignoring his nearly five-decade-long association with India, both as a diplomat and as a senior official of the Swiss Development Cooperation (SDC), which is part of Switzerland’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Government of India unceremoniously deported seventy-five years old Mr. Kurt Vogele when he landed in Ahmedabad on January 22, 2018.

Mr. Kurt Vogele’s unceremonious deportation came just days after India denied visas to a team of Australian journalists for having written a story on business tycoon Gautam Adani who is allegedly very close to Prime Minister, Mr. Narendra Modi.

A large number of Indian social activists, who have been friends of Vögele and are well connected internationally, have started a campaign seeking an explanation from the Indian authorities for their impulsive and arbitrary action.

Media reports suggest that the Vögele was probably denied an entry on the grounds that SDC gave INR Three hundred million as foreign funding to the Gujarat-based Dalit rights organization Navsarjan Trust whose FCRA license was not renewed on December 15, 2016. Navsarjan had reportedly attracted the adverse notice of the Intelligence Bureau and Home Ministry for alleged, “Undesirable activities aimed to affect prejudicially harmony between religious, racial, social, linguistic, regional groups, castes and communities”. However, sources say that Vögele was an invitee of Janvikas and Centre for Social Justice and Navsarjan had nothing to do with it. Perhaps they 'added two and two' on account of Sethi also being associated with Navsarjan.

In a detailed letter dated January 29, 2018, addressed to Sibi George, the Indian Ambassador in Switzerland, Vogele wrote that he had “an awfully bad experience” as his visa, which he had obtained by end of December 2017 in Berne, was rejected by the immigration officials. Stating that no specific reason was given for denial of entry, he wrote: “I was just told that I had no right to enter India, that I was blacklisted and that I had to return to Switzerland immediately.”

Vogele said he found this experience “humiliating” and “a result of an arbitrary decision, not worthy of a country I have learned to respect and appreciate”. He had last visited India in January 2017 on an invitation of the Malabar Union in Kerala.

Vogele said he insisted that he had a valid visa and his requests that he be informed of the reasons for his deportation were all “totally ignored”. Nor was he allowed to phone his friends who were waiting for him at the airport.

Vogele was visiting India on an invitation from Gagan Sethi, the founder of Janvikas and several other organisations working in areas of human and institutional development, access to legal justice, women empowerment, conflict management, and minority and Dalit rights. Sethi, it is learnt, had also gone to receive Vogele and the latter had urged the immigration authorities to give him an opportunity to speak to him.

In his letter, Vogele said that his arguments, “especially my asking for the reasons for this decision was not considered at all”. He added how his “passport also was not given back” to him, and was returned only after he landed in Geneva. The senior diplomat has urged the Indian ambassador in Switzerland to let him and Imfeld know the reasons for such unilateral behaviour by a country he cherish for its democratic institutions.

All of us in the CSO/NGO sector are very alarmed by the unceremonious manner in which the immigration officials at the Ahmedabad airport denied entry to Kurt Vogele. What is even more worrying is, there is a studied silence on the part of Government of India officials over the reason behind what appears to be a very impulsive decision.

What also upsets us is the way he was treated at the Ahmedabad airport. Not only was he told to return to Switzerland immediately, but, his pleas for wanting to phone his friends waiting for him outside, as also his insistence that he should be told the reasons for his deportation, were summarily ignored. He felt “wronged, saddened and violated”, to quote him from his letter of protest to the Indian ambassador in Switzerland.

That a person of his Mr Vogele’s stature, who is an avid India friend since 1960s, had to face such humiliation is difficult to believe or accept. Are we a sovereign democratic republic or a banana republic?

Instrumental in providing major assistance during the devastating earthquake in Kutch  in 2001, Kurt had partnered with the Institute of Rural Management, Anand (IRMA), NABARD, MILMA (Malabar Union), Calicut, and the Kerala Institute for Local Administration (Thrissur).

We feel that blacklisting a good friend of India, that too when the Prime Minister is seeking to remove the barriers of protectionism, is not ‘good policy’; it will only harm India’s prestige abroad, especially among long-time ‘friends of India’. While the Union home ministry is said to have sought a report from the Bureau of Immigration, the fact is, all decisions to deny entry to foreigners emanate from those handling things in New Delhi, and individual immigration officers are simply not in a position to provide any reason.

The Government of India owes an apology to Mr. Vogele.

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