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Row over letter to Obama on Modi

Vinay Kumar
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Many Parliamentarians claim their signatures were forged

: A controversy broke out on Wednesday over a letter written to the United States President Barack Obama by 64 Members of Parliament, urging him to adhere to the current policy of denying visa to Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi, who was recently made head of the BJP’s campaign in the next general election.

With many parliamentarians claiming that their signatures on the letter to Mr. Obama were forged, the controversy looked set to intensify.

M.P. Achutan, a CPI MP, has denied signing any letter to the U.S. President.

The letter is being seen as an instrument to blunt the effort of BJP president Rajnath Singh, who is in the U.S., to persuade Washington to lift the ban on Mr. Modi’s travel there.

While BJP MP from Jharkhand, Sudarshan Bhagat, wrote to Lok Sabha Speaker Meira Kumar, seeking a probe into alleged forgery of signatures, the main Opposition party found fault with the Congress, accusing it to be behind the entire “letter affair’’ and demanded a probe.

However, Independent MP Mohammad Adeeb, who is stated to have taken the initiative for the campaign, has vouched for the authenticity of the letter. Stating that he welcomed an inquiry, he said, “Anyone found guilty of cheating colleagues should be punished and removed from Parliament.’’

Mr. Adeeb maintained that by re-sending the letter to the White House, he hoped to stultify the effort of BJP chief to lobby for an end to the ban on Mr. Modi’s travel to America.

The U.S. has denied Mr Modi a visa, citing “the violation of religious freedoms’’ in the 2002 communal riots in Gujarat when he was serving his first term as the Chief Minister.

BJP spokesperson Prakash Javadekar said since many MPs (who are signatories) have denied writing such a letter, it was important to catch those who forged signatures. Denial by some MPs of having written to Mr. Obama showed that this was a “clear conspiracy of the dirty tricks department of the Congress.’’ He demanded a thorough probe into the matter.

Another BJP spokesperson, Nirmala Sitharaman, alleged that these leaders were making the U.S. a third umpire in the issue. “External help to contain Mr. Narendra Modi? These 65 MPs have failed to engage with him politically. Sponsored activists don’t trust Indian courts. Seeking external assistance to prop up their unjust cause. A third umpire in the USA for an Indian political fight?” she said on Twitter.

Congress general secretary Digvijay Singh was dismissive of the whole issue, saying it was for the U.S. to decide.

The letter controversy came a day after BJP MP from Bihar and cine-star of yesteryear Shatrughan Sinha declared L.K. Advani as the party’s tallest leader.

While lavishing praise on the BJP patriarch, Mr. Sinha, also a former Union Minister, said it would be best if Mr. Modi’s coronation had Mr. Advani’s blessings.

Political observers say Mr. Sinha’s views and absence of Mr. Modi’s picture in campaign posters for the Madhya Pradesh Assembly elections have only given credence to reports that the BJP was still a divided house even after Mr. Modi was made head of the party’s campaign committee.

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