Narendra Modi In The Perspective Of The US State Department
Narendra Modi in the perspective of the US State Department:
As of 2013, the situation of Narendra Modi in the US perspective was like this – even if he emerged victorious in the 2014 elections as the Prime Ministerial candidate of the BJP, an invitation from the White House was a remote possibility. In March 2005, under the Religious Freedom Act of 1998, USA had declined Modi a diplomatic visa and had even gone to the extent of abjuring his tourist and business visas because of his alleged involvement, or more precisely, his obliviousness to the 2002 riots of Gujarat.
The chain of events were triggered off on the fateful morning of 27th February, 2002, when the Sabarmati Express carrying Hindu activists from Ayodha had pulled in the railway station of Godhra, Gujarat. This train was set on fire by a group of Muslims, claiming the lives of 58 people who were charred to death. The 2002 Gujarat communal violence had erupted on the following day, which according to some experts was a direct retaliation of the train burning incident and had continued for three days in different parts of Gujarat, followed by instances of communal riots in Ahmedabad, which continued for three weeks followed by three months of communal violence in different parts of the state. The official body count was 1044, which included 790 Muslims and 254 Hindus, with 2500 people injured and 223 more missing. The riots were more grisly because there was a targeted attack on Muslim children and women.
The police inaction is often blamed on Modi (who at the time was the Home Minister of Gujarat too). There had been many accusations including that of Zakia Jafri (widow of Ehsaan Jafri, a Congress MLA and a victim of the Gujarat riots) that the police did not interfere as actively as it was supposed to, on the explicit instructions from Modi. The Supreme Court of India had appointed a Special Investigative Team (SIT) which had given Modi a clean chit absolving him of all the accusations in 2013. As per the statements of David C Mulford, the then US Ambassador to India, the decision to declare Modi a persona non grata in the US was based on, “…..the fact that, as head of the State government in Gujarat between February 2002 and May 2002, he was responsible for the performance of State institutions at that time. The State Department’s detailed views on this matter are included in its Annual Country Reports on Human Rights Practices and the International Religious Freedom Report. Both reports document the violence in Gujarat from February 2002 to May 2002 and cite the Indian National Human Rights Commission Report, which states there was ‘a comprehensive failure on the part of the state government to control the persistent violation of rights of life, liberty, equality and dignity of the people of the state”’. The report also outlines how Modi had consciously refrained from discussing the riot issues and his attempts to reconstruct his image as a politician with priorities for development and expansion of business, especially in the countries abroad. The report further adds that, whenever Modi speaks of Gujarat, he always focuses on the success story of the state and never on the murky past, that had still remained a questionable issue till date.
The report also has issues with the Vibrant Gujarat Summit. In the said biennial conference, the state showcases its strong points and the conference is attended by eminent businesspersons, potential investors and interested industrialists who in fact comprise the Who’s Who of India. According to the report of the Ambassador, Modi has contracted a Washington based lobbying organization – APCO Worldwide in May 2007 to promote the Vibrant Gujarat Conclave. APCO’s clientele comprises of known former and current dictators and a senior director of the firm happens to be one Tim Roemer, ex – US Ambassador to India from 2009 to 2011 and an advocator of FDI’s in India. According to the statements of an APCO spokesperson, the contract with Modi had expired in May 2013.
Despite the circumstances, Modi seems persistent in his incursions to USA. Modi’s videoconference address for the Wharton’s India Economic Forum had to be cancelled in the face of protesting students in March 2013. However, a top Republican US delegation had met Modi during a ten day tour in India in March 29th, 2013 and had even invited him on an US tour. Cynthia Lummis, one of the visiting Republican delegates had later addressed the adjournment of Modi’s US visa during a US house subcommittee hearing on the same issue. Lummis, however, had spoken in favor of Modi as evident from her statement, “Here is someone whose province is growing dramatically, in its hiring of people in its welfare of families. We have a gigantic Ford Motor Company manufacturing facility going on in Gujarat. But it seems more US politicians oppose Modi than support him”.
Following this, a group of 25 US Legislators, comprising of both Democrats and Republicans, had pleaded with the then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for not lifting the ban on Modi’s visa.
In the light of the human rights violation in the 2002 riots of Gujarat, the stand of the US State Department seems to be unyielding till date and the status of Modi remains persona non grata in the US. When posed with the question, what would be the policy of the State Department if Modi becomes the Prime Minister of India, the State Department had shrewdly evaded the issue and had commented, “If Chief Minister Modi applies for a visa, his application will be considered to determine whether he qualifies for a visa, in accordance with the US immigration law and policy”.
The Time magazine report by Michael Crowley:
The upcoming January 27 issue of the Time magazine portrays another side of the story. The recent diplomatic crisis that has sparked between India and US following the arrest of the Deputy Consul General to the Indian Embassy in New York, Devyani Khobragade, on felony charges of visa fraud and mistreating her maid and her consequent return to India under the cover of diplomatic immunity may further reflect on the US visa issue of Narendra Modi. As quoted by Michael Crowley, the acclaimed columnist for the Time magazine, “When Modi had no national profile, the restriction was inconsequential. But can Washington blacklist the leader of India?” The US authorities seem to have a difference in opinion as far as the visa issue of Modi is concerned. As informed by Crowley, a resolution introduced in the US Congress in November, 2013, advocates the continuation of the ban on Modi’s visa. However, businessmen and individuals with more practical point of view consider the ban on Modi’s visa as an exaggeration, keeping in mind the greater goals that both the countries can achieve through a stress free bilateral relation.
Meanwhile, Finance Minister P Chidambaram had completed his four days Washington trip in July, 2013. India is seeking FDIs worth USD 1 billion to pitch in the finances for the developmental schemes outlined in the 12th Five Year Plan, and the Finance Minister’s mission had been to bring the buck to India. Given the financial stakes involved, the Government is trying to play it safe with the US as far as possible.
Senior BJP leader Shatrughan Sinha has commented that, “If Modi becomes the Prime Minister of the country, then if the need arises for him to come to the US, America will have to grant the visa. It cannot be possible that you do not give visa to the Prime Minister of a country”.
With the European Union and the UK softening up and lifting the ban on Modi entering these countries, it is to be seen what course of action USA chooses to follow. With Modi as the forerunner in the 2014 elections as the Prime Ministerial candidate of the BJP and inching closer to being the leader of the nation, it lies in the best interest of the US to overlook minor things, such as a character analysis of Narendra Modi!