The organisation behind a lawsuit filed against Prime Minister Narendra Modi has offered a bounty of $10,000 to anyone who could serve him with the >summons issued by a federal district court and capture the service on video, sparking concerns that there could be a security incident during Mr. Modi’s historic five-day visit to the U.S.
In a statement, the American Justice Centre (AJC) said that the award for serving Mr. Modi was announced “due to the fact that the PM's visit will only last 5 days and will include a packed schedule of meetings and speeches. Servers are expected to produce a video of the serving to be eligible for the award.”
On Thursday human rights group >AJC filed a 28-page complaint against Mr. Modi on behalf of multiple plaintiffs who hailed from Gujarat and suffered serious injury or the death or injury of a family member, alleging that Mr. Modi was culpable for his role in presiding over the 2002 anti-Muslim pogrom in the state.
The same day the federal court in the Southern District of New York issued summons to Mr. Modi to answer the plaintiffs within 21 days or face a “default judgment,” which could include categorisation of the 2002 riots as a “genocide” and potential compensation to the plaintiffs.
On Friday morning, during a White House briefing regarding bilateral prospects coming out of the summit meeting with U.S. President Barack Obama, a senior administration official clarified that the summons could not be delivered to him while he was in the U.S. or attending the United Nations General Assembly, as he was immune from prosecution, and “Sitting Heads of Government also enjoy personal inviolability while in the U.S., which means they cannot be personally handed or delivered papers… to begin the process of a lawsuit.”
However, answering this argument the AJC counsel Gurpatwant Singh Pannun said, “(As) Per the precedence established in the case of former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, the immunity extends only to acts committed during the individual’s tenure as Head of State. Our case against Mr. Modi is related to his complicity in the Gujarat pogroms of 2002, when he was Chief Minister of the state.”
In the >cases brought against Dr. Singh , allegations made against him that after 2004, he shielded Jagdish Tytler and others linked to the 1984 riots were not entertained by the U.S. court as he was deemed to be immune from prosecution given the fact that he was the Head of the Government at the time.
However, he was considered by the court to be potentially liable to answer allegations made that during 1991-1996 he helped finance counter-insurgency measures in India leading to numerous extra-judicial deaths, the reason for which was the fact that he was only the Finance Minister of India at the time and not a Head of Government.
In a conversation with The Hindu Mr. Pannun further explained that as this was a civil proceeding against Mr. Modi, New York laws applied at this time, and summons could simply be served by ascertaining the presence of Mr. Modi in relatively close proximity, for example depositing the summons at his feet.
However for the more creatively minded, an equally acceptable means would be to throw the summons at Mr. Modi’s feet after attracting his attention, even from ten feet away, in a way that he was made aware of the summons landing there, Mr. Pannun said.
“We are banking on community members, at least one of them, to stand up for human rights and deliver the summons,” Mr. Pannun said, adding that it was quite possible given the large number of community interactions planned in Mr. Modi’s schedule.
When asked whether this could spark any security concerns given the sensitive nature of the task Mr. Pannun said, “No, he is definitely secured and in good hands. It will just be down to an individual’s willingness to hand him a piece of paper.”
A brief glance through New York law on summons suggests that the only available option for delivering summons to Mr. Modi, who does not have a place of residence or business in the state, would be “personal delivery,” for which a copy of the summons and complaint may be served by giving it to the concerned person in their hand, after which the server must fill out an affidavit of service and return it to the court within 14 days of the service.
Although The Hindu reached out to officials of India's Ministry of External Affairs who are in New York at the moment, a reply was not received by the time this article was published.