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Updated: March 22, 2011 05:44 IST

When Modi was denied the visa

Suresh Nambath
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The Ministry of External Affairs made a pitch for restoring Narendra Modi's U.S. visa. Photo: P.V. Sivakumar
The Hindu
The Ministry of External Affairs made a pitch for restoring Narendra Modi's U.S. visa. Photo: P.V. Sivakumar

UPA government, having “gone through the motions” by protesting, was “unlikely to ratchet up the pressure further”; Modi's “America bashing has made many” in the Congress and the BJP “nervous”

Sometimes, diplomacy is more about keeping up appearances than about achieving concrete results.

After India urged the United States in March 2005 to reconsider its decision to revoke the visa of Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi, the U.S. Embassy made an action request to Washington seeking a “review” of the case. However, the ‘action request' cable of March 18, 2005 (29140: confidential) also had a revealing accompanying note: “Post does not expect any change, but would appreciate a cable telling the GOI [Government of India] we took a fresh look and decided to maintain our decision.”

Grave concern

The cable was sent by the New Delhi Embassy under the name of Ambassador David Mulford after India's Foreign Secretary Shyam Saran called the Deputy Chief of Mission in the Embassy, Robert O. Blake, to his office on March 18, 2005 to express India's “grave concern” over the revocation of Mr. Modi's visa.

Evidently, the Embassy's only interest in sending the ‘action request' cable to the State Department was the diplomatic and political necessity of responding to Mr. Saran on March 19, 2005, the day Mr. Modi was to travel to the United States.

During the meeting with Mr. Blake, Mr. Saran characterised the U.S. decision on Mr. Modi's visa as “uncalled for” and as a display of a “lack of courtesy and sensitivity.” The Foreign Secretary conveyed that the refusal had already “incited a controversy and threatened to spark just the kind of divisiveness the US alleges Modi himself facilitated.”

Reporting on the meeting, the confidential cable said: “Saran argued to the DCM that the USG [United States Government] had made a decision based on opinion, an opinion that even some in India hold. That opinion, however, is a separate issue from the fact that Modi is a constitutionally-mandated office holder whose position derives from the people. Saran argued that the US as a democracy would appreciate this, and argued that the dignity of the office of Chief Minister cannot be overridden. Calling the USG determination that Modi had failed to act in Gujarat during the 2002 riots a ‘subjective judgment,' Saran suggested that perhaps Washington had not considered that this was a separate issue in the Indian mind.”

While appreciating the importance that the United States government attached to religious freedom, Mr. Saran cautioned that this determination could have an effect opposite from that intended: “a strong emotional reaction which had the potential to polarise the Indian people.” This, he noted, would not be in the interest of religious harmony, or shared U.S. and Indian objectives.

Highlighting the political ramifications, Mr. Saran said the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) was “up in arms.” The incident, he added, might “open up an odd type of standard to give or not give visas.”

On his part, Mr. Blake explained to Mr. Saran the two parts of the U.S. decision – the refusal of the A2, and the revocation of the B1/B2, “highlighting that we had acted in accordance with our own law and democratic constitution.” The U.S., he told the Foreign Secretary, had taken into consideration independent reports, including that of India's own National Human Rights Commission. “The decision was not taken capriciously, but involved many people in Washington.”

‘Position deteriorating’

Another cable sent three days later (29231: confidential), also under the name of Ambassador Mulford, reported that the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government, after having “gone through the motions” by protesting the U.S. decision, was “unlikely to ratchet up the pressure further.”

The New Delhi Embassy's reading of the situation, even if it was arguable on Mr. Modi's “position deteriorating” in the national leadership stakes, must have reassured the State Department: “Congress has long viewed Modi as a vulnerable target and will, at the appropriate time, use the visa incident as further ammunition against him. Both Congress and the BJP particularly value the US-India relationship and Modi's America bashing has made many nervous. Both parties will likely move to ensure that the negative impact on the relationship from this incident is minimal. With Modi's position deteriorating, the BJP leadership could decide to quietly push him aside at the appropriate time. This could become a further liability for [BJP president L.K.] Advani, who [was] the senior party leader most visibly supporting Modi.”

The Embassy cable also reported that in private conversations with American diplomats, “Indians have expressed overwhelming support for the US decision.” Initial shock at the denial was now turning to embarrassment and “Modi harmed himself by making vitriolic anti-American statements that are not resonating well.” One former Director of the Central Bureau of Investigation, the cable said, told DCM that “Ninety five percent of India stands with you.”

(This article is a part of the series "The India Cables" based on the US diplomatic cables accessed by The Hindu via Wikileaks.)

I think this was a tricky situation for the US to deal with. One the one hand Modi was under scrutiny for the events in Gujarat (in other words gross human rights violations), on the other hand he was an elected official of India. I'm quite happy that he got a slap in his face from the US. It seems like the people of Gujarat have yet to muster the sense and the courage to get rid of an opportunist like Modi. I cringed when watching him during the India-Australia match. How can we consciously support someone like him? What does that tell us about our principles as a people? There are so many good, honest and capable individuals in our country, yet we let the unethical govern us.

from:  Junaid
Posted on: Mar 27, 2011 at 00:11 IST

@Shankar T - Excellent observation. Folks going beserk here need to look at the spineless and weak government of India instead. As far as Modi is concerned, those glorifying him should ask themselves what if the women and children burnt in a organized, government-led manner were to be their own wife and children. Riots is one thing. Government controlled genocide is another.

from:  Albert Mendonca
Posted on: Mar 26, 2011 at 22:29 IST

I see a lot of comments bashing the US and how we should reciprocate. But I really wonder who is really with the spine and who is not. At least the US clearly has some goals and tries to clearly attain those goals. Though we may not like their goal of being the global superpower. What are India's goals? Forget about being a superpower, lets see inside India and figure out what India wants to attain? If anyone watched the recent bungle by our UN representative during the Libyan resolution. If India cannot make tough choices and wants to be scared of their votes in next election, then we don't desrve to be in the security council.

from:  Shankar T
Posted on: Mar 23, 2011 at 23:24 IST

The US has really shot itself in the foot on this one. It is hugely amusing to see the state dept, canceling Modi's visa and then having to speculate how to curry influence when he will be a national figure. The US has let itself be swayed by arguments of a group of people and taken this cheap shot of canceling the B1/B2 visa. The patronizing and sermonizing which underlay this episode and the disrespect shown to an entire state by rejecting their elected representative, should come back to haunt the US.

from:  Vishwas
Posted on: Mar 23, 2011 at 10:40 IST

How could CBI conclude that 95 per cent of Indians stand with America? If so, how is it that Modiji still stands tall in India?

from:  Somasundaram Vaitheeswaran
Posted on: Mar 22, 2011 at 17:32 IST

No Mr.Bush/Obama. Our Mr.Modi is not Gaddafi or Hosni Mubarak. He is long elected representative of an Important state of India. People of India in general and people of Gujrat in particular will not forgive USA for this. Time will tell.

from:  M.S.Bharti
Posted on: Mar 22, 2011 at 16:45 IST

I do not see a need for the anti-America tirade by Modi. In democracy public opinion will ultimately prevail in India and US. The essence of Wikileaks cable proves CBI's incompetence, and Modi should enter national politics on the promise of dimantling and reorganizing CBI.

from:  Badri
Posted on: Mar 22, 2011 at 16:11 IST

CBI told US that “Ninety five percent of India stands with you.”!! Thats funny, quite funny indeed. Most Indians - those who are aware of this matter - actually did not like the US government's decision. Not just Indians, but most of the world citizens just don't like the US "Globo Cop" stand at all. We are good enough to deal with law and order in our country. And, the US better respect public offices and elected leaders rather than treat us like a Banana republic.

from:  V Rajesh
Posted on: Mar 22, 2011 at 15:36 IST

If US could deny visa to people like Mr Modi, then I think all the nations around the world should deny visa to all the American leaders, for their deeds, in Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya and the endless list.

from:  Subu
Posted on: Mar 22, 2011 at 13:23 IST

This just shows that the US is the most arrogant and consider themselves God! They are acting as though they are the sole protectors of humanity! shameful!

from:  arjun
Posted on: Mar 22, 2011 at 08:38 IST

Irregardless, the man holds a Chief Minister's post in a major state in an emerging economy. I think this decision was a blunder, and since India is a weak state, they can do it and get away from it. I don't support Modi or the BJP agenda, but it's a Chief Minister we're talking here!

from:  Raj
Posted on: Mar 22, 2011 at 08:09 IST

I wish the Indian govt would exhibit a similar spine and (1) independently evaluate key Foreign (including American) figures (2) deny them visa or take other actions for violations of human right, religious freedom or waging unnecessary wars. This would be good for all humanity.

from:  Hamid
Posted on: Mar 22, 2011 at 07:26 IST
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