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Deported Swiss diplomat Kurt Vogele recalls his ordeal at Ahmedabad airport

Rajeev Khanna | Updated on: 13 February 2018, 9:30 IST
(File photo)

Just at the time when Prime Minister 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 pedalling, were busy deporting a former Swiss Diplomat without any rhyme or reason.

The former diplomat Kurt Vögele has written to the Indian Ambassador in Berne Sibi George, Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Swiss Confederation Dr. I. Cassis, Swiss Ambassador to India A Baum and former Swiss President R. Dreifuss protesting the treatment meted out to him and him being told at the Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel International Airport in Ahmedabad that he was blacklisted. His passport was handed to him only after he landed back in Geneva.

With the letter now in circulation on international platforms, the development is sure to turn the heads of the Modi government. A large number of Indian social activists. who have been friends of Vögele and are well connected internationally, plan to start a campaign seeking an explanation from the Indian authorities for their action.

The 75-year-old Vögele, had arrived on an invitation from eminent social activist Gagan Sethi, who heads the organization named Janvikas and is associated with several other social organizations.

“He has been an old friend and associate. He did a lot of work with us after the Kutch earthquake of 2001. He has been coming regularly to meet his friends here. He was to interact with our staff members during his visit. We are surprised that he was deported despite the fact that he carried a perfectly valid visa,” Sethi told Catch News.

On being deported from India

Media reports suggest that the Vögele was probably denied an entry on the grounds that SDC gave Rs 30 crore as foreign funding to the Gujarat-based Dalit rights organization Navsarjan Trust whose FCRA licence was not renewed on December 15, 2016. Navsarjan had reportedly
attracted the adverse notice of the Intelligence Bureau and Home Ministry for 'undesirable activities aimed to affect prejudicially harmony between religious, racial, social, linguistic, regional groups, castes and communities'.

But 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.

Ironically, this deportation took place on the same day that Modi was speaking in Vögele's home country, recounting the merits of globalization. It has been reported that Vögele as a diplomat, was posted in India as part of the Swiss Development Cooperation (SDC),
which is responsible for Switzerland's overseas relief activities. The Indian intelligence agencies had reported nothing adverse on him.

“While arriving at Ahmedabad Airport I (Kurt Vögele, 75) had an awfully bad experience: my visa, which I had obtained by end of December 2017 in Berne, was rejected by the immigration officials. 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," Vögele wrote in his letter. "My insistence on having a valid visa, on wanting to phone my friends who were awaiting me as well as on wanting to know the reasons for my deportation was totally ignored. My arguments, especially my asking for
the reasons for this decision were not considered at all.”

He further stated, “I find this humiliating experience, the result of an arbitrary decision, not worthy of a country I have learned to respect and appreciate. A country where I lived 13 Years in total (in three spells) mainly in the diplomatic function as Country Director of the
SDC. India has become a kind of a second home country for me where I was inspired and enriched professionally and personally."

He has pointed out in his letter that he has been linked with India since 1969 when he started working with SDC as the Indian Desk Officer in Berne. During his first spell in India, he was among others in contact with eminent agriculture expert M.S. Swaminathan for conducting
a study on the usefulness of crossbreeding in Kerala. “It was the first study of its kind in India and it was for me the beginning of a long, stimulating and enriching relationship with the country where I was able to put all my energy into it and from where I also received a lot,” the
letter says.

He further added that in his almost 40 years of his professional relationship with India, he could help to develop the programme of SDC in India, substantially. “This explains why the refusal from being allowed to enter into India on
the January 22 was such a shock for me. In this connection, I was informed that my colleague, Josef Imfeld, who was from 2000 to 2005 also at the Swiss Embassy in New Delhi and who was mainly in charge of Regional programmes of SDC, was denied an entry visa for India. Is there
a connection? We both are really perplexed and need to know why," Vögele has written. "I do hope that you will take our request seriously and that you let us know the reasons for such unilateral behaviour by a country I cherish for its democratic institutions."

He has stated that he wants to be able to remain in contact personally and professionally with all the people he grew closer to in India. Therefore he has requested that denial of entry to Josef Imfeld and himself is withdrawn.

“We are examining the legal options. We also plan to start a campaign to get the government to come out with a reason on why they have done what they have done when he was given a legitimate visa in the first place,” says Sethi.

Social organisations & Dalit rights

It needs to be pointed that all these social organizations have been in the forefront of carrying out movements for Dalit rights and other activities connected with ensuring human rights of the marginalized sections of the society and this has been not to the liking of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) that is in power both at the centre as well as in Gujarat. A large number of campaigns and activities by these organizations were carried out when Modi was the chief minister of Gujarat.

The activities and campaigns carried out by the social organizations include working for the victims of the 2002 anti-Muslim pogrom in Gujarat. Sethi and his team worked for justice to the victims like Bilkis Bano, a pregnant woman who was gang-raped and left for dead in one of the most horrific incidents of violence that had followed the burning of 59 Hindus in Godhra. Navsarjan over the last several years has carried out events that have caused great embarrassment to Modi and other BJP leaders.

Sethi was present on the dais with Congress president Rahul Gandhi when the latter received the country’s largest national flag that the Dalits had presented to Gujarat Chief Minister Vijay Rupani in August last asking him to declare at least one village in the state untouchability-free.

The flag had been returned to them with the government telling them that it would receive the flag for keeping it when it had space for the same. Rahul had made a strong political statement by accepting the flag ahead of the recent polls.

Vögele's deportation is being seen as a price for his association with Sethi and other activists who have been carrying out activities, not to the liking of Modi and his party men.

First published: 13 February 2018, 9:30 IST