- The Washington Times - Friday, March 18, 2005

The United States yesterday denied a visa to the Hindu nationalist chief minister of India’s western Gujarat state, where religious riots killed about 2,000 people, mostly Muslims, in 2002.

Narendra Modi, a senior member of the Bharatiya Janata Party, has been directly implicated in the riots, and his government’s complicity has been condemned by international human rights groups and the State Department.

The Indian Supreme Court has called him a “modern-day Nero.”

The U.S. Embassy in New Delhi announced the decision to deny a diplomatic visa to Mr. Modi, who was scheduled to be the chief guest at the annual convention of the Asian American Hotel Owners Association in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., next week and address a gathering at Madison Square Garden in New York tomorrow.

The embassy also revoked Mr. Modi’s existing tourist-business visa, saying he was no longer eligible under the International Religious Freedom Act.

In Washington, State Department deputy spokesman Adam Ereli said Mr. Modi’s visa was revoked under an Immigration and Nationality Act provision of the law.

The law, Mr. Ereli said, prohibits visas for “any foreign government official who is responsible for or directly carried out at any time particularly severe violations of religious freedom.”

The Congress Party-led federal government in New Delhi criticized the U.S. decision, saying it showed a “lack of courtesy and sensitivity.”

A senior U.S. Embassy official was called to the Ministry of External Affairs “to lodge a strong protest … and to request an urgent reconsideration,” the Associated Press reported.

However, the Indian government in the past has criticized the Modi government in Gujarat for the riots, and the visa denial, coming two days after a visit to New Delhi by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, is unlikely to cause further diplomatic tension at the national level.

Mr. Modi called the U.S. decision “an insult” to India and suggested that “India should deny visas to U.S. officials as a protest against Washington’s policies in Iraq.”

Almost 2,,000 people — mostly Muslims — were killed in the religious riots in Gujarat in 2002. The riots were sparked by an attack on a train car in which 60 Hindus returning from a religious pilgrimage were burned to death.

Muslim mobs were blamed for the fire at the time, but now investigators are questioning the claim.

Human rights groups accused Mr. Modi’s state government of doing little to stop the violence, and the Supreme Court criticized its lenient handling of Hindus accused of killing Muslims.

Several religious and human rights organizations in the United States had been campaigning for weeks to pressure the U.S. administration to deny a visa to Mr. Modi.

Joseph K. Grieboski, president of the Washington-based Institute on Religion and Public Policy, which led one such campaign, welcomed the U.S. decision.

“Denying entry into the U.S. of this man whose actions led to the deaths of thousands solely because of their religious beliefs sends an explicit message to oppressive regimes everywhere,” he said.

More than 20 members of Congress, led by Rep. Joe Pitts, Pennsylvania Republican, also campaigned to block the visit.

LOAD COMMENTS ()

 

Click to Read More

Click to Hide