Stoking another potential row, Minister of State for External Affairs Shashi Tharoor has questioned the tightening of Indian visa rules in the backdrop of the David Headley case and wryly said: “26/11 killers had no visas.”
Wondering whether the tightening of the visa norms for foreign nationals made sense at all and if it would actually “protect” security, Mr. Tharoor asked whether India would allow terrorists to make it a “less welcoming” destination.
Mr. Tharoor had set off controversies in the past by his tweets over the government’s austerity drive and some other issues.
The Union Home Ministry recently tightened visa regulations in the wake of the arrest of Pakistani-American Headley and Pakistani-Canadian Tahawwur Rana in the United States for plotting terror attacks against India. Both had been given long-term multi-entry visas.
“Is all that worth it just in hope of making it difficult for a future Headley to recce? R we going 2 allow terrorists 2 make us less welcoming?” the Minister wrote in his twitter account on Saturday.
The Minister also said “making it more difficult 2 visit India, return here frequently or stay long hurts large nbrs of innocents, costs us millions of $ [dollars] & alienates.”
“No easy answers 2 such qsns [to such questions] government is grappling with. But important to recognise that security not become an excuse 2change [to change] our cntry 4d worse [country for the worse],” Mr. Tharoor said.
“Thx [Thanx] for gr8 [great] feedback on visas. Issue is not security vs tourism, but whether visa restrictions protect our security,” he said while replying to a tweet.
Noting that visa arrangements were reciprocal, Mr. Tharoor said: “The more restrictive we become, the tougher it will be for Indians to travel freely.” He also said the revised visa norms would discourage “tourism and goodwill.”
The Union Home Ministry had on November 4 issued a directive that foreign nationals having a long-term multi-entry Indian tourist visa must have a mandatory two-month gap between two visits.
The new norms were introduced after Indian investigators found that Headley and Rana got long-term tourist visas and visited several Indian cities.
The External Affairs Ministry on December 24 clarified that there would be flexibility by Indian missions and immigration authorities in allowing two or three entries by foreigners subject to a detailed itinerary and supporting documents.