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The Indian Business Association (IBA) issued a formal apology on Tuesday for including a bulldozer in its Indian Independence Day parade in Edison and Woodbridge townships in New Jersey on August 14. The apology letter to the mayors of both towns was made public on Tuesday.
The letter, signed by IBA president Chandrakant Patel, acknowledges that certain aspects of the Independence Day event offended Indian American minority communities, especially Muslims.
The letter stated, “Unfortunately, there was a bulldozer among the floats in the parade which is a divisive image that did not reflect our mission. Our parade should never be about politics and should never include these blatant divisive symbols. Our parade should recognise us as South Asians living in two of the best towns in the country.”
On August 14, the IBA along with the Overseas Friends of the BJP (OFBJP) held a parade along Oak Tree Road, from Edison to Woodbridge, to mark the 75th anniversary of India’s independence. Videos and photographs indicated that the parade featured a bulldozer with a picture of Yogi Adityanath, the chief minister of India’s most populous state of Uttar Pradesh (UP).
Critics and civil rights organizations said that the bulldozer and the accompanying placard – ‘Baba Ka Bulldozer’ (Baba’s Bulldozer) – was a reference to Adityanath’s administration’s use of bulldozers to demolish illegal homes, businesses, and places of worship of Muslims and Christians. Other BJP-governed states such as Madhya Pradesh and Gujarat also implemented this tactic to demolish allegedly illegal buildings.
“We hereby made the commitment that we will not allow these symbols in the future and that we will work with all different groups of South Asian heritage to make sure that our parade remains the best in the State of New Jersey,” Patel said in the letter.
He further said, “The parade should be and has always been about a celebration of our Indian heritage and inclusion and diversity among our many different cultures and religions. Unfortunately, there was a bulldozer among the floats in the parade which is a divisive image that did not reflect our mission. It was seen quite negatively by many who are deeply impacted and insulted by certain activities that have been happening in India. Many who participated or watched the parade or heard about the activities from social media accounts were offended by this symbol and by comments made by our guest speaker and that was not our intention.”
On August 16, the New Jersey chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) along with rights groups Indian American Muslim Council (IAMC) and Hindus for Human Rights (HfHR) issued statements against the use of the bulldozer in the parade.
At a press conference held at Edison, IAMC, CAIR-NJ, Black Lives Matter (BLM), American Muslims for Democracy (AMD), and HfHR said they had met with the US Attorney General’s office and the New Jersey Attorney General’s office to seek legal action against the parade’s organizers. They said they had filed charges with the Edison Police Department against the IBA and sought police investigation into the event, which they categorized as a “hate parade”.
Samip Joshi, the mayor of Edison township in New Jersey, criticized the inclusion of a bulldozer by Hindutva groups saying that “any symbol or action that represents discrimination is unwelcome”. He added that the parade was not sponsored by the township.
On Tuesday, the New Jersey chapter of the CAIR acknowledged the apology. Selaedin Maksut, executive director of CAIR-NJ, the New Jersey chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, said the IBA’s apology acknowledged its wrongdoing, which he said is “a step toward making future parades representative of the Indian population, including Muslims, Christians, Sikhs, Dalits and Tribals.”
He said, “We agree that future parades cannot include blatantly divisive symbols and guest speakers and should never be about politics. Such hatred cannot be tolerated. Instead, the parade should celebrate India’s independence and rich culture and diversity.”
Maksut added, “The bulldozer is a symbol of intimidation and support for the oppression of minorities in India. Such hateful symbols have no place on our streets.”
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