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Saturday, March 19, 2005


Mr.Modi Denied!

On Friday the US State Department denied Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi a visa to enter the United States. Mr.Modi was scheduled to visit the US for a week starting Sunday, March 20th. The highlight of his trip would have been a speech at the AAHOA (Asia-American Hotel Owners Association, a predominantly Gujarati organization) convention in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

Here's the official explanation offered by the State Department -

"We can confirm that the Chief Minister of Gujarat state Narendra Modi applied for but was denied the diplomatic visa" under the Immigration and Nationality Act, said a U.S. Embassy statement. The visa was revoked under a provision of the act "which makes any government official who was responsible for or directly carried out at any time, particularly severe violations of religious freedom, ineligible for a visa," according to the statement.
From the Washington Post of March 19th

This is an unprecedented decision. The decision took policy makers both in the US and India by surprise.

Young India was outspoken in its scathing criticism of Mr.Modi and his government for standing by as the state of Gujarat was transformed into a laboratory of hate and brutal violence. This decision by the State Department evokes many feelings. As the Indian government tries to negotiate with the State Department to review its decision a deeper analysis must be deferred till the conclusion of these discussions is reached. However, a few preliminary judgments can be made.

Gujarat is a state that has a great cultural heritage and has become a key player in India's economic future. We hope and strive for its success to grow and inspire other parts of the nation. No doubt. Yet there are times when the great work of a people gets overshadowed by events such as the brutality of the Gujarat violence in 2002 - both Godhara and the violence that followed. And when that happens we cannot ignore such events but rather must passionately pursue justice. The Best Bakery case and other attempts seek such justice in India have pathetically fared. Mr.Modi and his colleagues have been admonished by the Supreme Court of India who called Mr.Modi a modern-day Nero (the Roman Emperor who to sustain his power and position blamed the troubles in Rome on a small Christian minority who were burnt alive).

The Indian justice system has NOT been able to indict Mr.Modi or his colleagues. Now is the visa denial an insult to Mr.Modi or the Indian justice system? Why did it have to come to this? We'll have more analysis of this development in the next issue of SAMAY. The Indian government's protestations are expected by protocol.

There are arguments emanating from some quarters that the United States has no right to pass judgment on the internal matters of a functioning democracy. That argument is disingenuous. The United States or any other country for that matter does indeed have the right to deny a visa for a person whose native land may not indict him or her for heinous crimes. But let us not deflect the matter on to the United States' record. That's not the issue. Let us not belittle the larger humanitarian issue that has put Mr.Modi front and center of this issue. The apparent protocol violation is secondary. Morality is above propriety. That too if the propriety is of a cosmetic kind.

In conclusion, the US government's decision on the surface seems like breaking protocol. It will and has caused people not happy with this decision to call on US double-standards, which do exist. Yet on this count the US government has indeed put morality above protocol. We hope they have the political will to stand firm on their decision. Also, in ANY other circumstance such a decision could be viewed discourteous towards a democratically elected government representative. But NOT in this situation. We also hope that this development instead of making Mr.Modi a martyr of sorts in India turns the heat on him so that he can brought to justice and the people of Gujarat can finally get a leader that can lead them in the 21st century.


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