MOBILIZING PUBLIC SUPPORT
THE WALL STREET JOURNAL
May 12, 2010, 7:56 PM IST
Protesting Kamal Nath in Absentia
By Paul Beckett
Kamal Nath is India’s pitch-man-in-chief, circling the globe to speak at conferences, road shows and official get-togethers, first as India’s trade minister and now as India’s highways minister. But recently he’s been getting unwanted attention on his overseas jaunts.
On Wednesday in London, where he had been scheduled to appear at a conference at the London Business School, a crowd of about 30 Sikhs waited outside the venue, facing a small line of police, chanting slogans against Mr. Nath. Ironically, even though Mr. Nath was in London, he didn’t attend the conference, having given his regrets about 10 days ago.
But that didn’t deter the demonstrators who showed up just in case Mr. Nath showed up too. They claim the minister was involved in the anti-Sikh riots that followed the assassination of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi in 1984. Mr. Nath faced another demonstration over the same allegations on a recent trip to Canada.
“We decided to go ahead anyway because the police would not confirm that he would not attend,” said Jagtar Singh, an adviser to Sikh Federation U.K., which organized the demonstration. A government spokeswoman said Mr. Nath denies any involvement in the anti-Sikh riots and wonders why he is being accused of something more than 25 years after the alleged event. She added that she didn’t think his cancellation was related to the prospect of a protest but had been unable to confirm that with the minister.
Few in the conference were aware of what the demonstrators were protesting. Some thought they were there to protest Vedanta and its controversial mining project in Orissa since Vedanta chairman Anil Agarwal also had been scheduled to attend. But he was traveling and also was a no-show.
The demonstrators made some noise through the morning of the conference, on the periphery of Regent’s Park, then disbanded. But Mr. Nath should expect more of the same as he globetrots to try to drum up investment in India’s infrastructure. Let’s hope he didn’t cancel his appearance out of security concerns, as some in the audience speculated, since India needs all the help with infrastructure it can get and Mr. Nath is an enthusiastic raiser of much-needed funds.