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NO change in US stand on denial of visa to Modi

By Aziz Haniffa
April 26, 2012 09:30 IST
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The Barack Obama administration has indicated that there is unlikely to be any change in the State Department's policy to refuse a visa to Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi to visit the United States, and predicted that this will be the message it will convey to a US lawmaker who has launched a campaign to prevail upon the administration to grant a diplomatic visa to Modi.

Last week, as reported exclusively by rediff.com, on the urging of his Indian American constituents, particularly hoteliers of Gujarati-origin, right wing conservative Republican Congressman Joe Walsh had written to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton urging her to "consider granting a diplomatic visa to Modi."

On Wednesday, State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland, asked at the regular noon briefing if Clinton would be replying to Walsh and if the US would review its position in 2005, when it refused Modi a visa to come to the US, said: "Our position on the visa issue hasn't changed at all."

Walsh, a freshman lawmaker, who is vulnerable in his district in the upcoming November elections and needs all the financial support he can muster as he has been targeted by Democrats as one of the most vulnerable incumbents, in his missive to Clinton had recalled that "in March 2005, Modi was denied a diplomatic visa to visit the United States. A State Department official said at the time that he was forbidden entry to visit the US under "Section 212 (a)(2)(g) of the Immigration and Nationality Act."

This section of the law makes foreign government officials ineligible for a visa should the State Department deem them responsible for or directly carrying out severe violations of religious freedom.

Walsh argued that "it should be noted that when reading this section of law further, it specifically states that these violations cannot have occurred 24-months prior to application for a visa."

He informed Clinton that "the communal riots that occurred in Gujarat in 2002 are undeniably tragic and resulted in many deaths of innocent Indians," but noted, "This region has worked for years now to bring to justice those that committed serious crimes and many strides have been seen towards reconciliation among Muslims and Hindus in the region."

"Ten years have passed since the violence in Gujarat and much progress has been made. 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.

Thus, Walsh urged Clinton that "it is time the State Department reconsiders permitting Modi into the United States."

The Indian American Muslim Council, slamming Walsh for launching a campaign urging the administration to permit Modi to enter the United States, said, "It is unfortunate that a sitting member of the US Congress should attempt to make a case based on ignorance of the law which was amended in September 2009, specifically to remove the 24-month restriction."

IAMC called on Walsh "to refer to the US Department of State's Foreign Affairs Manual Volume 9" to apprise himself with the law.

It also argued that "in making the case that religious violations under Modi occurred a long time ago, Representative Walsh's letter is also a tacit acknowledgement of the fact that those violations did indeed occur."

"Contrary however, to Congressman Walsh's uninformed and presumptive defense of Modi, the religious violations did not end after the Gujarat carnage of 2002. They continue to this day, in the form of extra-judicial killings, lack of due process in law enforcement and economic discrimination against minorities," IAMC said.

It added, "Perhaps the respected Congressman would find it educational to read news reports of people displaced during the carnage of 2002, of which 16,000 are still living in refugee camps lacking basic amenities."

The IAMC alleged that "while Modi is busy spending the state's tax dollars in hiring PR firms like APCO to give himself an image makeover, the minorities in Gujarat continue to bear the brunt of his hateful ideology."

It said that "on January 26, 2012, a heritage cemetery belonging to Christians was desecrated by Hindutva fanatics that share Modi's ideology. Not surprisingly, the Gujarat Chapter of the All-India Christian Council called for Modi's resignation for failing to protect Christians."

"The campaign for a US visa for Modi is antithetical to the ideas of justice and human rights," IAMC said, and argued that it's also "against the conservative principles of religious freedom Congressman Walsh stands for."

It warned that "allowing  Modi to gain the veneer of respectability he craves by granting him a US visa is an affront to the rule of law, and tantamount to rubbing salt into the wounds of multitudes who continue to suffer under his misrule." 

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 Asian American Hotel Owners Association, where he was to deliver the keynote address.

Interestingly, the refusal of the visa at the time to Modi 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 the then US deputy chief of mission at the American embassy in Delhi, who at the time was Blake, 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 that "the US law is clear that states or government officials responsible for carrying out serious violations of religious freedom are ineligible for a visa".

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Aziz Haniffa in Washington, DC
 
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