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|February 16, 2000|
Why is Kissinger scared of the Mahajan brothers?
Romi Mahajan, a 28-year-old communications student at the Austin campus of University of Texas, cannot understand why Henry Kissinger or the university should be scared of him. Or of his brother, Rahul. Or of fellow students and professors who are part of a six-month-old organization called The Radical Action Network. The Mahajan brothers, who are inspired by Mahatma Gandhi's civil disobedience protests, say they had planned a peaceful agitation against Kissinger.
The school canceled Kissinger's engagement last month because it said the protesters wanted to ''restrict'' his speech.
The school also was concerned for the safety of Kissinger, the secretary of state and national security adviser in the administrations of Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford, whose policies in Chile and Southeast Asia still provoke bitter and heated discussions. The authorities were worried that the kind of wild protests that took place during the World Trade Organisation summit in Seattle may be repeated in Austin.
Kissinger was to address students and faculty on February 1 at the Lyndon B Johnson Library.
Romi Mahajan and his friends said the UT Austin's claims are ''ludicrous.''
''This was not our first act of protest,'' he said. ''We have had many, many protests before and they have always been of a peaceful nature.'' Mahajan, who is working on his Ph D program is one of the founders of The Radical Action Network.
"We protested at the idea of Kissinger speaking because he stands for so much of what we are fighting against. He has a horrific record of crimes against humanity in history," said Romi, who was born in the United States but travels frequently to New Delhi, where his parents live.
Romi's brother, Rahul, 30, is also a founder of RCN.
"For us the idea of Kissinger appearing on campus was a no-brainer," Rahul said. "We would never endorse that. Kissinger is a typical 'poster child' to be held in contempt because of his despicable crimes."
Rahul Mahajan is a working on his doctorate in physics.
"Kissinger is responsible for the deaths of millions of innocent people," said Rahul, an activist for the past six years.
The brothers deny any suggestion that the planned protest would have been anything but peaceful.
"We are about ten to fifty members at any given time. We planned to use the traditional methods of communication open to dissenters who are shut out of the mainstream media and these are leaflets, signs and speeches," said Romi, who idealizes Jawarhalal Nehru, Ram Manohar Lohia and considers Mahatama Gandhi "a great and shrewd politician."
Romi dismisses the notion of Kissinger being "an elderly statesman."
"Kissinger's Nobel Prize was a farce. His reputation is all lies. He is a joke," he said.
Bob Jensen, a tenured journalism professor and one of the organizers of the protest, strongly supports the Mahajan brothers and the others.
"We intend to ask questions of Kissinger. We were going to demand that he accept responsibility for his wrongs," said Jensen, who added that he believed it was "cowardice" by the university to cancel the event.
"We know that Kissinger is notoriously thin skinned about any kind of criticism and the university was just plain embarrassed about the protest, which by the way, was not planned in secret. It was an open thing, everyone knew we were going to protest," said Jensen, who has been involved in several peaceful protests with the Mahajan brothers on the United States foreign policy.
The "criminal record" of Kissinger that the protesters planned to resurrect at a teach-in-a-week before the scheduled appearance included his alleged role in "genocidal campaign" in East Timor, which claimed 200,000 lives in 1975.
Kissinger's decision to bomb Cambodia for 160 consecutive days in order to defeat Communist guerrillas was also on the agenda for discussion.
"Kissinger should not be honored anywhere and we planned to do what citizens in a democracy have a right to do -- hold someone who made policy accountable for his decision," Jensen said.
Dr Peggy Kruger, director of Public Affairs at UT Austin, said, "the library was a separate, federal facility and the university, although connected to the library, has no say in the invitation of their guests."
A statement by Kissinger offers little explanation: "I regret the circumstances that have caused the cancellation of this year's Harry Middleton lecture created by Mrs Johnson, and any embarrassment suffered by this great former lady and valued friend."
A joint statement by William H Cunningham, Chancellor of the University of Texas System, and Larry R Faulkner, issued soon after the canceled February 1 lecture by Kissinger said: "The decision to cancel the planned lecture by Dr Henry Kissinger was made jointly by Mr Harry Middleton, Director of the LBJ library and Dr Kissinger himself. "
It continued: "We acted upon the analysis and advice of security agencies, including the US Secret Service and the UT Austin Police, who had been closely monitoring developments. The two of us agree that there were legitimate concerns over public safety and over the ability of Dr Kissinger to deliver his remarks. These are the basic facts of the matter. We see nothing to debate."
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