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January 6, 2000
Advani's Pic Off Demagogue Wall
A P Kamath
Five years after L K Advani's picture joined those of Saddam Hussein, Idi Amin and other dictators on the Demagogue Wall at a major museum in Los Angeles, it was taken down on January 5. The museum authorities told an Indian American organization that had mounted a campaign to have the picture removed that it would offer an apology to the Indian community.
The Demagogue Wall is a section of the Museum of Tolerance, which itself is a part of the Simon Wiesenthal Museum in Los Angeles.
The wall seeks to bring attention to men and women whose views and actions are deemed anti-human. According to sources, the Advani picture went up because his rath yatra was perceived as communal.
The Museum of Tolerance is visited by hundreds of people including school children. The Dalai Lama has also visited it.
The campaign to have the picture removed was mounted by Sunil Aghi, president and founder of the Indo-Americans Political Foundation, when he heard about the Demagogue Wall about four months ago.
Aghi himself is not new to controversies.
Aghi received the wrath of the Hindutva groups in America when he endorsed a revised version of a Xena episode in which Hindu gods were shown as humans. He had said that the revised episodes did not show Hinduism in bad light and by mounting protests against the episode and demanding its cancellation, the groups showed the community in a bad light.
"Many people could think we are as fundamentalist as some of the groups that opposed the work of Salman Rushdie," he had said.
He said that he took up the Advani cause because he felt it was simply not correct to lump him with the likes of Amin and Hussein. "Every Indian was insulted by that act," he said.
Aghi said his group got involved in the protest shortly after he visited the museum in connection with his participation as a commissioner with California lieutenant-governor Cruz Bustamante's Commission for One California.
The Commission whose purpose is to combat hate crimes and promote tolerance and diversity in California held its inaugural meeting at the museum last September.
"I am often asked how is that the Indian community did not notice the picture for five years," he told rediff.com. "Perhaps it is because we do not visit museums in big numbers."
Aghi wrote a letter to Rabbi Abraham Cooper, the executive director of the museum, on November 3.
"Advani is an outspoken proponent of stronger Indo-Israeli ties," the letter said. "He has not endorsed, ratified, or participated in the abuse of any group of people." On the other hand, Aghi pointed out Advani had "taken extraordinary steps to safeguard fundamental human rights."
Rabbi Cooper had said earlier that the decision to remove the picture would come only after its executive committee would study the issue.
He had also expressed his unhappiness in what he called the publicity the issue had received. The museum also used Mahatma Gandhi as an example of tolerance, he said, adding that that particular act seemed to have gone unnoticed.
Aghi said the success of IAPF's campaign proved that constructive dialogue does yield results.
"We are happy that the picture has been removed," he said. "And we look forward to inter-faith dialogue with all peace-loving communities."
For more details about IAPF, contact Sunil Aghi at 714 998-4088.
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