INDIA INDEPENDENCE DAY PARADE, NEW JERSEY
The parade featured a bulldozer which was decorated with posters of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and UP chief minister Yogi Adityanath
After a huge controversy, the president of the Indian Business Association (IBA) has issued a letter of apology to the mayors of Edison and Woodbridge for including a divisive float in the 2022 India Independence Day parade that offended some community members and sparked a severe backlash against IBA.
“Our parade should never be about politics and should never include these blatant divisive symbols. Our parade should recognize us as South Asians living in two of the best towns in the country,” Chandrakant Patel, IBA president said, in letter to Edison Mayor Sam Joshi and Woodbridge Mayor John McCormac.
“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,” said Patel in a letter issued on August 30.
Patel said in his letter that the organization offers sincere apologies for certain aspects of the parade that “reflected poorly on our organization and offended the Indian American minority groups, especially Muslims, from the local area and across the state and country,”
The row started on August 14 when IBA hosted an India Day parade along Oak Tree Road from Edison to Woodbridge, two Central Jersey communities with large Asian Indian populations and business districts. The parade marked the 75th anniversary of India’s independence.
The parade also featured a bulldozer which was decorated with posters of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Yogi Adityanath, the chief minister of Uttar Pradesh, who has earned the nickname “Bulldozer Baba”. The construction equipment is viewed as a symbol of hate, particularly by the Muslim community.
Following the parade, many from the Asian Indian community, turned out at two different Edison Township Council meetings to voice their opposition on the meaning and use of the symbol. Some members called for the Indian Business Association to be held accountable.
On August 22, leading civil rights organizations in New Jersey demanded immediate investigative and legal action from the US Department of Justice, the US Department of Homeland Security, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation against the Overseas Friends of the BJP (OFBJP) and the Indian Business Association (IBA) for their roles in organizing the parade. At a press conference held at Edison Township in New Jersey, Indian American Muslim Council (IAMC), Council on American Islamic Relations-New Jersey (CAIR-NJ), Black Lives Matter (BLM), American Muslims for Democracy (AMD), and Hindus for Human Rights (HfHR) said they had met with attorneys from the US Attorney General’s office and the New Jersey Attorney General’s office to seek legal action against the parade’s organizers.
The Edison Township Council also denounced the spectacle of a bulldozer during the celebrations. “This is clearly giving a message of intimidation to American Indian Muslims and other minorities saying ‘We are here, we are in control and you can’t do anything, even in America,” said Dylan Terpstra, operations coordinator at CAIR-NJ. At the meeting, Terpstra drew a comparison on how the bulldozer served to fear monger Muslims the same way the Black community faced intimidation with the symbol of the noose throughout history, which struck a chord with Council Vice President Joyce Ship-Freeman.
Joseph A. Coyle, Council President of Edison, also criticized the acts. “I would not have participated in the parade had I known [about the bulldozer]. I would have walked right off the street. And I’m sure I speak for every council member and any official in Edison or the state of New Jersey,” said Coyle.
A group of state legislators from the Asian American Pacific Islander (AAPI) communities also released a statement condemning the inclusion of a bulldozer in the parade.
The 18th Annual India Day Parade began at the intersection of Cinder Rd & Oak Tree Rd in Edison and ended at Middlesex Ave & Oak Tree Rd in Woodbridge.
In an important development, Edison Mayor Sam Joshi said symbols of hate and discrimination are not welcome in the township. In a statement on Monday, Joshi said Edison is committed to celebrating and working in harmony with people from all cultures.
Now the IBA has offered an unconditional apology.
“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,” Patel said in his letter. “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.”
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.