The letter, to maintain the current policy of denying Narendra Modi a visa to the United States, was released just as the BJP president arrived in Washington DC for a round of meetings with US lawmakers. Aziz Haniffa reports
A well coordinated pre-emptive strike by the anti-Narendra Modi forces in the United States and India has the Bharatiya Janata Party and its American affiliate -- the Overseas Friends of the BJP, livid and crying foul.
Bharatiya Janata Party president Rajnath Singh was at Capitol Hill lobbying influential US lawmakers to prevail upon the Obama administration to lift the US visa ban for the Gujarat chief minister.
The Coalition Against Genocide, a broad alliance, which says it is ‘dedicated to justice and accountability for the Gujarat pogrom of 2002,’ on Tuesday hailed the letters signed by 65 members from both houses of India’s Parliament, calling on President Obama to maintain the ban. The letter was released by one of the CAG’s affiliate, the Indian American Muslim Council.
In the letters to Obama, Indian parliamentarians from 15 parties from both the Rajya Sabha and Lok Sabha said, ‘We wish to respectfully urge you to maintain the current policy of denying Mr Modi a visa to the United States.’
In the missive, the MPs noted, ‘Given the legal cases against the culprits, including many senior officials in Mr Modi’s administration are still pending in the court of law, any revoking of the ban at this juncture would be seen as a dismissal of the issues concerning Mr Modi’s role in the horrific massacres of 2002.’
‘It would legitimise Mr Modi’s human rights violations and seriously impact the nature of US-India relations by sending a message that the United States values economic interests over and above the universal values of human rights and justice,’ it said.
The letter was released by the IAMC just as Singh, after three days in New York, arrived in Washington, DC and started a round of meetings with US lawmakers, including senior members and founders of the Congressional Caucus on India and Indian Americans.
The BJP president Singh met the likes of House Foreign Affairs Committee chairman Ed Royce, California Republican.
In New York, Singh had told reporters that when he goes to DC, he would urge members of the US Congress to call on the US administration to lift the visa ban on Modi who has been virtually anointed by the BJP as its prime ministerial candidate.
The letters, written in November and December 2012, and faxed to Obama, were again faxed to the White House to coincide with Singh’s visit to DC and released to the media simultaneously.
In 2005, in the wake of a campaign spearheaded by the CAG, which co-opted the US Commission on International Religious Freedom, Modi’s US visa was revoked. Modi’s entry to the US was banned by the State Department under the provisions of the International Religious Freedom Act, which makes any foreign government official who ‘was responsible for or directly carried out, at any time, particularly severe violations of religious freedom’ ineligible for a visa.
Raja Swamy, spokesman for the CAG, said, “The fact that over 60 MPs from 15 political parties across 15 states chose to write a joint letter to President Obama about Narendra Modi's US visa, is a stark reminder that Modi and the divisive ideology he represents continue to be anathema to a cross section of Indians.”
“After having long denied any desire on the part of Mr Modi to acquire a US visa, Mr Rajnath Singh's visit to the US, to lobby lawmakers here for Modi's visa reeks of hypocrisy,’ he added.
The letter by the MPs, referred to the conviction of Maya Kodnani, a sitting BJP MLA and then minister in Modi’s cabinet, as ‘a damning indictment of the Modi administration, and proof that the pogrom was planned and executed at the highest levels of the state government.’
It argued that the visa ban on Modi was ‘consistent with US law and the shared values of the United States and India,’ and called on Obama to ‘stand in solidarity with the survivors, human rights activists and all those who value justice and freedom of religion.’
Ahsan Khan, President of IAMC, which released the letters to the media, told rediff.com, “The joint letters of 65 MPs from both Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha was an independent effort undertaken by the MPs themselves.”
He said, “Mohammed Adeeb, Rajya Sabha MP has already gone on record to say that he initiated this effort. IAMC, which is a member of the Coalition Against Genocide, was able to get copies of these letters through its sources in India, and saw it fit to release them to the media. We did not alert the MPs to the release of the letter,” he said.
Khan argued, “When Mr Rajnath Singh, president of a major political party saw it fit to come to US begging for a visa for Modi, criticism of the MPs for writing to President Obama, is a case of the pot calling the kettle black.”
The Times Now television news channel and the New York Times reported from New Delhi, had run a primetime debate titled, ‘Is it appropriate of Indian politicians to drag their fight with Modi to Washington’s court?’ while Jay Narayan Vyas, a senior colleague of Modi in the Gujarat government, had pilloried this letter by Indian parliamentarians akin to ‘washing dirty linen outside the country.’
But Khan asserted, “As for countering Mr Rajnath Singh's efforts, we do not believe we need to do that. The fact that Mr Modi has an uncanny ability to unite against himself, elected officials across the ideological spectrum in both India and the US, speaks volumes about his chances of ever being granted a visa to the US.”
Dr Shaik Ubaid, president of Indian Muslim Advocacy Network, another affiliate of CAG, also rejected the BJP and Overseas Friends of BJP's criticism of the letter as hypocritical and without merit.
Ubaid argued, ‘Human rights are universal. The victims of Gujarat pogrom have not received justice even after a decade while the person responsible might become the candidate for PM. Where is the accountability and justice in that? India took a moral stand in ‘internal affairs' of other countries, such as against apartheid in South Africa and even after riots against Indians in Fiji, so why cannot President Obama be involved. After all Mr Rajnath brought the issue to the US, coming with a begging bowl for visa and a laundry bag with Modi's dirty linen.’
He also brushed off the BJP’s contention that one MP has backtracked, and asserted, ‘It is a desperate diversionary tactic by the Modi camp. The issue is not if one or two MPs are backing off, not being able to stand the heat generated by sustained BJP attacks. Politicians ‘flip flop’ even in the US, I was expecting more to come under pressure.’
Ubaid said, ‘The issue is Modi. The whole episode shows Mr Modi is a stigma and liability for India, Gujarat, Hinduism and even for BJP.’
He said, ‘Instead of attacking Congress Party the BJP has to spend each day justifying its annotation of a politician with blood stained hands.’
Ubaid said, ‘Indians living in the US are endangering the future political prospects of Indian community here and for US investment in Gujarat by closely associating themselves with an extremist politician.’
Singh, who is scheduled to meet with a few selected members of the Indian media in Washington at the National Press Club on Wednesday to apprise them of his meetings in Washington, was expected to respond to this latest anti-Modi campaign timed to coincide with his DC visit.