The United States consulate in New Delhi has informed US Senator Bob Corker, Tennessee Republican and a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi is not eligible to receive a diplomatic visa. Aziz Haniffa reports.
On the urging of his Indian American constituents, led by activist Tarun Surti of Nashville, Tennessee -- one of Modi's staunchest supporters in the US --and several senior members of the Asian American Hotel Owners Association, the majority of whom have origins in Gujarat and are ardent fans of Modi, Corker had contacted the US embassy in New Delhi to explore the possibility of Modi being granted a diplomatic visa to visit the US.
But Surti said he had received a call from Corker's office "notifying me that the 'Diplomatic Visa' is not available to Sri Narendrabhai Modi."
He said, "The US embassy in Delhi informed the senator's office that such visa are reserved for federal government employees only and not available to state government officials."
Surti said, Corker's office had also been notified by "The US embassy in Delhi that it is unwilling to address the illegal revocation of Sri Narendrabhai's visa and now wants him to reapply for visa."
"He will be insulted a third time assuming that the US embassy in Delhi again rejects his visa application," Surti complained, and added, "Narendrabhai has been insulted twice before and does not need another insult."
An aide to Corker, confirmed to rediff.com that the senator had been informed that Modi is not eligible for a diplomatic visa and that if he applies for a visitor's visa "it will be considered on its merits," but that there "is no guarantee that he will be issued one."
Evidently, seeing the writing on the wall, the hierarchy of AAHOA, which had been considering inviting Modi to keynote its annual convention last week in Atlanta, Georgia, had given up on the idea, fearing that he would be embarrassed once again by being refused a visa.
In March 2005, Modi was denied a visa for his alleged complicity in Gujarat's sectarian violence in 2002 -- which left nearly 2,000 people, mainly Muslims dead -- when he had applied for a visa to attend the annual convention of the AAHOA, where he was to deliver the keynote address.
Interestingly, the refusal at the time came just two days after the visit to New Delhi of then US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and although the Congress Party-led United Progressive Alliance government had no love lost for Modi, it summoned Robert Blake, the then US deputy chief of mission at the American embassy in Delhi, and lodged a strong protest over Washington's decision called it "uncalled for."
The External Affairs Ministry at the time said, "The action on the part of the US embassy is uncalled for and displays lack of courtesy and sensitivity towards a constitutionally elected chief minister of a state of India."
The US embassy at the time said Modi's tourist and business visa issued in 1998, had been revoked and there was no chance he would be issued a diplomatic visa either.
Earlier, the US embassy said Modi's tourist and business visa, issued in 1998, had been revoked and he would not get a diplomatic visa either.
At the time, an angry Modi called the US decision "an insult to the Indian constitution and an attack on Indian sovereignty."
But the US held firm and did not issue him a visa, saying the decision had been taken under the provisions of the Immigration and Nationality Act, "under which any foreign government official responsible for serious violation of religious freedom is ineligible for a visa."
The state department said, "The US law is clear that states or government officials responsible for carrying out serious violations of religious freedom are ineligible for a visa."
Last month, Surti had called upon AAHOA to invite Modi to keynote AAHOA's annual convention and the past and present leadership of AAHOA has contacted several US lawmakers on this issue and urged them to prevail on the State Department to permit Modi to visit the US.
It was on their urging that last month a US lawmaker, Congressman Joe Walsh had launched a campaign to prevail on the Obama administration to grant a diplomatic visa to Modi.
Walsh, who is vulnerable in his district in the upcoming November elections and needs all the financial support he can muster as he has been targetted by Democrats as one of the most vulnerable Republicans, wrote to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton urging her to "consider granting a diplomatic visa to Chief Minister Narendra Modi of the Indian State of Gujarat."
"Ten years have passed since the violence in Gujarat and much progress has been made. Mr Modi has been recognised across the world for establishing Gujarat as the most business-friendly state in India and is widely believed to be a serious contender for the 2014 election for Indian Prime Minister," he added.
Last November, Blake, while acknowledging the economic progress and the exponential growth in Gujarat, which has made it an attractive state for investment by American business and industry, said that there has been no review on the issuance of a visa for Modi to travel to America.
"No, there are no new developments on that," Blake said. "But as you say, Gujarat itself remains a very important place for American investment. It's shown itself to be a very welcoming environment for American business to flourish. And we'll continue to promote investment, encourage investment into that state."
An incensed Surti, on hearing of Corker's unsuccessful attempt to get the US embassy to grant Modi a visa, said, "I do not know if Narendrabhai really needs US visa because he is busy taking care of his people and country."
"He has brought prosperity, stability and social harmony among the people of Gujarat and therefore Gujarat has become the best examples in the nation. And, now the world has recognised him as the most beloved leader of India," he added.
Surti declared, "Don't we all wish that US embassy in Delhi will wake up and recognise the truth."
He said, "The US embassy in Delhi has insulted all of us by failing to correct a decision that was based on false accusations," and described such action as "totally un-American."
Surti argued, "It is wrong of US embassy to make a decision based on false allegation that is not supported by any judicial branch of India or the US. Besides, he has proven during last 10 years that he is not a monster as portrayed by the US embassy and his opponents who condone Islamic terrorists."
"Second, the current population of India, including all minorities, is in favor of him being the next prime minister of India," he claimed.
Surti warned, "It is time that US recognise this fact and correct its mistake before Modi becomes the next prime minister of India."
He called for "A day of fasting on October 2, 2012 by all India-American and people of India to protest the unwillingness of US embassy to correct their mistake by reinstating Modi's visa."
Surti said, "As a tax paying citizens of this country we have a right to demand from our government a fair and responsible attitude. Let us all join together and hold a gathering in every town in peaceful and non-violent manner to bring this issue to the American people and politicians."
He said he was currently contacting community leaders "who are willing to take part in this event."