Like moths to artificial light, controversies have a way of attaching themselves to Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi. By now a deeply polarising figure in India’s communally charged politics, Mr. Modi cannot help inviting constant attention to what he says or does. But the latest commotion that the Bharatiya Janata Party’s prime ministerial aspirant finds himself at the centre of is not of his own making. A petition urging United States President Barack Obama to continue to deny a visa to Mr. Modi allegedly contains the forged signatures of several Members of Parliament. No visa request of Mr. Modi is pending, and the petition seems more like an immature attempt to embarrass the Gujarat strongman than anything else. Surely, too much is being read into the granting or denial of a U.S. visa. True, Mr. Modi was denied a visa by Washington in the aftermath of the 2002 Gujarat riots citing “violation of religious freedoms”. But India’s law enforcement agencies and judicial system have so far not held Mr. Modi criminally accountable for the riots, and to see in the granting of a visa an endorsement — or in the denial an indictment — of the Gujarat Chief Minister makes no sense at all. Governments throughout the world consider their right to issue or deny visa to individuals from other countries a legitimate instrument of foreign policy. But what should worry Indians is how India’s criminal justice system makes politicians in power accountable for their acts of omission or commission. If Mr. Modi did indeed act irresponsibly during the Gujarat riots, the forum to establish that is in an Indian court, as Zakia Jaffrey and others are trying to do. There is little comfort to be had in his being denied a visa to the U.S.
The petition, submitted at the initiative of independent MP Mohammed Adeeb, is certainly ill-advised. Apparently, Mr. Adeeb wanted to counter what he saw as an attempt by BJP president Rajnath Singh to lobby Washington for a visa on behalf of Mr. Modi. Any U.S. decision on this issue is unlikely to hinge on the efforts of Mr. Singh or the letters of Mr. Adeeb. But the allegation that forged signatures were appended to the petition is serious, and needs a thorough probe. While Communist Party of India (Marxist) MP Sitaram Yechury has termed the affixing of signatures a “cut and paste” job, a few other MPs have also denied signing the petition. To set to rest all doubts, Lok Sabha Speaker Meira Kumar should order an investigation into the allegation of forgery as at least one BJP MP has formally requested her to do. But for now, far from embarrassing Mr. Modi, the petition seems to have embarrassed many of his political opponents.