A bulldozer among the floats at Indian parade divides New Jersey town

Reuters | Updated on: Sep 23, 2022
File picture: A bulldozer being used to demolish the ‘illegally constructed’ residence of Javed Ahmed, a local leader who was allegedly the key conspirator of violent protests against now-suspended BJP leaders’ remarks on Prophet Muhammad, in Prayagraj, June 12, 2022.

File picture: A bulldozer being used to demolish the ‘illegally constructed’ residence of Javed Ahmed, a local leader who was allegedly the key conspirator of violent protests against now-suspended BJP leaders’ remarks on Prophet Muhammad, in Prayagraj, June 12, 2022. | Photo Credit: -

Event organiser apologises for inclusion of the ‘divisive image’ in the parade

EDISON, New Jersey, Sept 23 Every August crowds clutching saffron, white and green flags line a parade route through Edison, New Jersey, to watch local business owners, politicians and the occasional Bollywood celebrity march past to commemorate India's Independence Day.

Normally a celebration, this year's parade instead divided this suburban, heavily immigrant town 30 miles (50 km) from New York City when a yellow bulldozer - a symbol that has become offensive to many Indian Muslims - appeared among the floats.

India's vast diaspora is made up mainly from its majority Hindu community but includes many Muslims.

Hung from the bulldozer during the August 14 parade was a sign that read "Baba Bulldozer" in Hindi alongside pictures of politician Yogi Adityanath.

Adityanath is a member of the BJP and chief minister of Uttar Pradesh, where a number of Muslim homes have been razed by bulldozers.

Some homes have also been demolished in Delhi, which is ruled by the opposition Aam Aadmi Party.

Adityanath denies being anti-Muslim.

"The chief minister has been using bulldozers to destroy illegal structures," said an aide in Lucknow, the state capital. "Clearly people of Indian origin understand his commitment and that is the reason they chose to praise him during the rally in New Jersey."

Some Muslims in India say the community has been humiliated and put under pressure since Modi came to power in 2014. Earlier this year, Muslims took to the streets to protest against anti-Islamic comments by two members of the BJP.

"We were hurt to see that hate migrating from India to the US," Mohammad Jawad, the president of the Indian American Muslim Council who has lived in Edison for two decades, told Reuters. "That hate is now in our backyard."

The event organiser, the Indian Business Association (IBA), a New Jersey-based group of Indian Hindu businessmen, has apologised and did not respond to follow-up calls asking why the decision to include the bulldozer was made.

Even so, residents said they remained concerned that the parade illustrates how India's political strife and religious tensions are seeping into expatriate communities in the US. Some objected to the organiser's decision to feature Sambit Patra, the BJP national spokesperson, as a special guest.

Patra could not immediately be reached for comment.

Other groups that appeared in the Edison parade, according to attendees, included Overseas Friends of the BJP as well as the Hindu Swayamsevak Sangh and the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, both of which are hardline Hindu groups.

"If this is not nipped in the bud, if this seed of divisiveness blossoms, then we are going to have the same situation here that we have back home," said Imtiaz Siamwalla, a 56-year-old Muslim who is a technology consultant and Edison resident. "We are seriously concerned about that."

Nearly half of Edison’s about 110,000 residents identify as “Asian,” according to US Census data. A long stretch of shops and small businesses connecting Edison and the neighboring town of Woodbridge has become known as ‘Little India.’

Two weeks after the parade, the IBA issued an apology, saying: "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."

In letter to the mayors of Edison and Woodbridge, the IBA promised to keep any divisive symbols out of the parade in future years.

Edison Mayor Samip Joshi said in a statement: "I want to be clear that any symbol or action that represents discrimination is unwelcome in Edison Township."

Published on September 23, 2022
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