Sixty-four members of India’s Parliament, 25 from the Lok Sabha and 39 from the Rajya Sabha, petitioned U.S. President Barack Obama to advise the State Department to hold firm to its 2005 decision to deny Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi an entry visa, owing to his association with the 2002 Gujarat riots, in which more than a thousand people, many Muslim, were killed.
In their letters to Mr. Obama, one from each House of the Legislature sent on November 26 2012, the MPs from 15 political parties across 15 states said that they “respectfully urge [Mr. Obama] to maintain the current policy of denying Mr. Modi a visa to the U.S.” considering Mr. Modi “presided over one of the worst sectarian massacres in the history of independent India, which led to the killing of over 2,000 people, the rape of hundreds of women and the displacement of over 150,000 people.”
Although the letters were sent nearly eight months ago their release to the media appears to be timed to coincide with the ongoing trip of BJP President Rajnath Singh to the U.S. East Coast. Mr. Singh is visiting New York and Washington for a slew of mostly private meetings with friends among the Indian-American community here, although he has been quoted saying to reporters in New York that he would “appeal to the U.S. government to clear US visa to the Gujarat CM.”
Reacting to the release of the letters Ahsan Khan, President of the Indian American Muslim Council said, “It is noteworthy that Mr. Modi evokes such strongly negative reactions from elected representatives in India as well as the U.S., across the ideological spectrum.” Raja Swamy, a representive of the Coalition Against Genocide remarked, “After long having denied any desire on the part of Mr. Modi to acquire a U.S. visa, Mr. Rajnath Singh's visit to the U.S.,to lobby lawmakers here for Modi’s visa reeks of hypocrisy.”
The petitioners in the letter to Mr. Obama hail from a diverse range of Indian states, including Tamil Nadu, West Bengal, Uttar Pradesh, Kerala, Jammu and Kashmir, and Andhra Pradesh.
Among them are several members of the Congress Party, the DMK, Sitaram Yechury of the Communist Party and pro-Dalit leader Thol Thirumaavalavan of the Viduthalai Chiruthaigal Katchi.
The letters from New Delhi were sent out even as senior State Department Officials including erstwhile Department Spokesperson Victoria Nuland and now-retiring Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asia, Robert Blake, were quoted saying that Mr. Modi was “welcome to apply” again for a visa and that the review of that application would be “grounded in U.S. law.”
Alluding to these comments among “disconcerting” reports that the State Department could be considering a change in its “longstanding policy” with respect to Mr. Modi’s U.S. visa, the Indian MPs were unequivocal in their request that Mr. Obama recognise Mr. Modi’s “personal complicity in the pogrom,” as documented by India’s National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) and others.
While some of these State Department comments came in April this year, in May pro-Modi lobbies faced strong “push back” when the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), which monitors religious freedom violations abroad, urged the State Department not to reconsider the decision to deny Mr. Modi a visa.
The letters from the Indian MPs noted that along with the USCIRF’s recommendations a number of U.S. Congressmen wrote to then-Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to express their profound concern over a possible visit to the U.S. by Mr. Modi in March 2005 and again in June 2008, and it was based on these concerns, that the visa denial was “rightly kept in place.”
Similar to the USCIRF report the MPs’ letters referenced the conviction of a sitting member of the Gujarat Legislative Assembly, Maya Kodnani of the BJP, and described it 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.”
The MPs also made a broader case for the Obama administration to stick to its line in the sand so far as Mr. Modi’s entry into the U.S. was concerned. They argued that the visa ban would be consistent with U.S. law and the shared values of the U.S. and India.
It was important for the ongoing struggle for justice in Gujarat, they noted, where over 16,000 survivors of the 2002 pogrom continue to live in refugee colonies lacking basic amenities and of the hundreds of women raped in 2002 there have been convictions in only two cases.
Further, the MPs cautioned, any change in the policy to deny Mr. Modi’s visa application “would legitimise human rights violations and seriously impact the nature of U.S.-India relations by sending a message that the U.S. values economic interests over and above the universal values of human rights and justice.”
In this context the MPs highlighted Mr. Modi’s “relentless efforts” at rehabilitating his image, including a campaign by his PR firm APCO Worldwide to create “an illusion” of Gujarat as a prosperous, progressive state. “The reality on the ground could not be further from the truth,” they said.
The initial denial of visa by the U.S. was issued under Section 212(a)(2)(g) of the U.S. Immigration and Nationality 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.
List of petitioners: Rajya Sabha
1. Hussain Umar Dalwa
2. Dr. K.P. Ramalingam
3. M.P. Achuthan
4. A.S.M. (unclear)
5. Sabir Ali
6. G.N. Ratanpuri
7. Dr. B.K. Mukherji
8. Sitaram Yechury
9. Mohammad Adeeb
10. A.A. Jinnah
11. S.T. Thangavelu
12. S.D. Sharik (MP J&K)
13. Ali Anwar Ansari
14. Pradip Bhattacharya
15. Dhiraj Prasad Sahu
16. Shantaram Naik
17. Dr. E.M.S. Natchiappan
18. V. Hanumantha Rao
19. Anandabhaskar Rapolu
20. T. Ratnabai
21. Anil Caad
22. Biswajit Daimany
23. Joy Abraham
24. Pakaj Bora
25. Avinash Panda
26. Vandana Chavan
27. Ishwarlal Jain
28. Prof. Alka Kshatriya
29. Praveen Rashtrabal
30. Mahendra Singh Mara
31. Mohammed S.
32. Mohammed Ali Khan
33. Pravez Hashmi
34. Dr. Vijay Laxmi Sadho
35. Dr. Abhishek L.S.
36. Eknath M. Gaikwad
37. Jayawant G. Awale
38. Sanjeev G. Naik
39. Marotrao Kowase
List of petitioners: Lok Sabha
1. Abdul Rahman (Vellore, TN)
2. Dr. Mehboob Beg (Anantnag J&K)
3. S.D. Shariq (Baramulla, J&K)
4. S. (unclear) (WB)
5. M.I. Shanavas (Wayanad, Kerala)
6. A.A. Jinnah (TN)
7. Shafiqur Rahman Barq (UP)
8. Mohammad Abrarulhaque (Kishanganj, Bihar)
9. Mohammad Sahu Yusin (UP)
10. Mausam Noor (WB)
11. Jassen Khan (Ladhak)
12. P.L. Punia (Barabanki)
13. Kamal Kishore (UP)
14. S.S. Ramasubbu (Tirunelveli, TN)
15. S. Ahmed
16. J.K. Ritheesh (Ramanathapuram, TN)
17. R. Thamaraiselvan (Dharmapuri, TN)
18. Asadudin Owaisi (Hyderabad, AP)
19. Jon K.M. (Kerala)
20. M.B.R. (unclear) (AP)
21. Ch. Lal Singh (Udhampur)
22. Thirumaavalavan (Chidambaram, TN)
23. Kadir Rana (Muzaffarnagar, UP)
24. A.S.M. (unclear) (WB)
25. E.T. Mohamed B. (unclear) (Kerala)