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America's dilemma: to give Narendra Modi visa or not

The United States has not changed its position on a visa for Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi, but pressure is being mounted on it from both within and outside the country. Yashwant Raj reports.

world Updated: Jul 23, 2013 23:10 IST
Yashwant Raj
Yashwant Raj
Hindustan Times
US visa for Modi,Narendra Modi,Rajnath Singh

The United States has not changed its position on a visa for Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi, but pressure is being mounted on it from both within and outside the country.

BJP president Rajnath Singh, who is currently touring the United States, has said he plans to raise the issue with lawmakers during his meetings on the Capital Hill.

To pre-empt Singh, letters written last November and December by 65 Indian MPs asking President Barrack Obama to continue to deny Modi a visa, were resent last Sunday.

"We wish to respectfully urge you to maintain the current policy of denying Mr. Modi a visa to the United States," read the letters written by the MPs belonging to 12 parties.

During his meetings on the Hill, Singh is either likely to encounter those already converted to the cause or those who will remain belligerently on the other side.

Republicans, broadly, are in favour. Democrats are not.

Republican House representatives Aaron Schock, Cathy McMorris Rodgers and Cynthia Lummis -- visited Modi earlier this year and promised to work on his visa.

"They have the blessings of the party leadership," said Shalabh 'Shalli' Kumar, a Chicago businessman who organized the congressional tour to Gujarat.
On their return, the three congressmen have indeed been on it, aggressively questioning the restrictions the state department and at congressional hearings.

The state department denied him a visa for foreign officials in March 2005 -- under a Republican administration -- and revoked his tourist/business visa issued to him earlier.

A US official had then said a diplomatic visa was denied to him -- under 214 (b) of Immigration and Nationality Act -- he was not coming for a "purpose that qualifies for a diplomatic visa".

His existing visa was revoked under Section 212 (a)(2)(g) of the Immigration and Nationality Act, which disqualifies foreign officials "responsible for or directly carried out, at any time, particularly severe violations of religious freedom".

The United States was not alone in punishing Modi for what was seen as his failure to stop the 2002 riots that claimed the lives of 790 Muslims and 254 Hindus.

The United Kingdom and other European Union countries joined the boycott, which began unraveling 10 years after with London making peace with Modi in October 2012.

The US, many thought, would follow. But it hasn't yet.

Not officially at least. Trade and business bodies such as the US-Indian Business Council have been an enthusiastic partner of Modi annual's roll call of fans, Vibrant Gujarat.

But the chief minister has his detractors -- apart from the group of 65 Indian MPS -- the US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USIRF).
"There is significant evidence linking him to the violence," said its chair Katrina Lantos Swett recently, adding, "and for this reason, a visa would not be appropriate."

Twenty-five House representatives wrote a letter to then secretary of state Hillary Clinton subsequently demanding the US should continue to deny Modi a visa.

So it has, to this date.

First Published: Jul 23, 2013 12:03 IST