No Modicum

The United States was within its rights to revoke Narendra Modi’s visa. But it is about politics not principle.

The lesson for India is simple — globalisation is unforgiving. Narendra Modi’s sins — of omission and commission — were not sufficiently addressed by the Indian political and judicial systems. The vicious brand of communal politics practised by Narendra Modi may have been popular enough in Gujarat to have won him a second term as chief minister, but many Indians were appalled. And it did not go unnoticed in the rest of the world. But it is not just Modi who is responsible for reducing the arson in Godhra and the wider carnage that it triggered into yet another political football — there is hardly a quarter in India’s political system that, post-Godhra, comes out with clean hands.

In spite of the severity of the damage caused by Modi and what he came to represent in the immediate aftermath of the violence, he ended up receiving no more than a mild rap on his knuckles. Even as Modi remained unrepentent, his sins are steadily diffusing into the smelly canvas of Indian politics, with every chance that he, like his equally sinning ‘secular’ counterparts, would live a long and happy life without having to be brought to account for their failings. Unfortunately, this process is not quite guaranteed to work in a globalised world.

Modi’s visa was denied under the International Religious Freedom Act that was passed by the US Congress in 1998 and strengthened in 2004 by the Intelligence Reform Act that gives the American president the authority to delay, deny, or cancel visits by a foreign citizen who ‘while serving as a foreign government official, was responsible for or directly carried out, at any time, particularly severe violations of religious freedom.’

In a statement the State Department said: ‘On March 18, 2005, the Government of the United States revoked a visa held by the Chief Minister of Gujarat pursuant to Section 212(a)(2)(G) of the US Immigration and Nationality Act which prohibits the admission to the United States of any foreign government official believe to have responsibility for serious violations of religion freedom.‘ [Rediff, emphasis added]

While the United States is within its rights to deny entry to Narendra Modi, it is equally true that its motivations were more political than matters of principle. President Bush would himself a very lonely host if his State department were to uniformly and impartially apply this law. Both close allies such as Ariel Sharon, Crown Prince Abdullah and Gen Pervez Musharraf, and strategic partners such as Vladimir Putin and Hu Jintao are at least as guilty as Modi. Worse, apart from Ariel Sharon and perhaps Vladimir Putin, none of them are even accountable to their own citizens.

That’s the other cliche about globalisation — it works both ways. Nobody who ever touches Narendra Modi comes out looking good. That list now includes the Bush administration, and yes, the Acorn too.

Tailpiece: Saurav Sarkar and the commenters at Sepia Mutiny reveal some of the political lobbying that went in. Is desi political influence (over India) reaching the tipping point?

20 thoughts on “No Modicum”

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  3. My only reaction to this is “Who the hell do they think they are?” I fear we are back to the days of the unilateral Super 301, Special 301 and Human Rights admonitions. Its up to us to decide whether somebody is right or wrong and prosecute for any wrongs committed. On what basis, can the U.S. State Dept decide.

    If they have to so decide, I would like to see whether they bar Musharaff who butchered Shias in the 80s in POK, Hu Jintao who led the Tibetan repression. The problem with these ‘holier than thou’ principles is the fact that its a “Different strokes for different folks” approach.

  4. I largely agree that this was blatantly hypocritical on the part of the U.S. government and my instinct is that it won’t do much to quell the appeal of Hindu Fundamentalism in the long run, even if it damages Modi. The one thing I want to point out though is there were a number of fronts to the coordinated campaign to express displeasure at Modi’s visit, and it included 1st gen South Asian activists. These other fronts included a campaign to get corporate sponsors and speakers not to attend the demonstration, an effort to target the venue, and other avenues. It was not limited to trying to wield the power of the U.S. government (and I think it’s unfortunate that this is the way it played out).

    It would be ideal if we could stay out of your affairs, but when bidesi hotel owners are engaged in promoting Hindu right politics for years, ABCDs like me feel an obligation to respond in kind against it.

    Offtopic, here’s an NDTV report on it.

  5. I strongly protest against the American decision. If they had simply denied him the visa and offered no reason, I would have at least given them the benefit of the doubt. This “serious violations of religion freedom” BS is highly hypocritical. I have already penned my thoughts on this. It should be up on Sat.9am EST (to give the current posts some “footage” 🙂 )Its a silly angry rant though as compared to your much restrained analysis.

  6. Patrix,

    In the 1990s, the US used to have this list of state-sponsors of terrorism, which was just a foreign policy instrument. When the US was finally struck by terrorists, nobody asked why the countries they came from were not on the State Department’s list.

    Hypocritical policies come with their own consequences.

  7. Your point about American double standards on this matter are well-taken. If Modi deserves to have his visa revoked, so does Saudi Interior Minister Prince Nayef, who in the past has shaken hands with Bush at the White House. So do a number of Saudi and Chinese officials who are unlikely to ever face such treatment. And as the Indian Express’ editorial noted, it would’ve made sense to grant Modi a visa if only because a US trip would’ve been a PR disaster for him, with hordes of protestors accompanying his every public appearance.

    But at the same time, perhaps because religious riots have happened so often in India’s past (with Muslims generally being as complicit in their perpetration as Hindus), I think part of the uproar stems from the fact that many Indians don’t recognize just how much of a black eye Modi and his cohorts gave to their country’s image. Back when I visited Vadoddara a year ago, more than one educated, upper-middle-class relative was stunned to hear that Gujarat had obtained a bad name in the Western press as a result of the riots, and Modi’s subsequent election victory. Perhaps a silver lining will emerge from the State Deparment’s hypocritical, pandering action if it allows more Indians to recognize how characters such as Modi, Bal Thackeray, and Praveen Togadia are looked upon by the outside world.

  8. hypocritical or not , you give them a chance to arm twist you they will do it .secondly its high time we knew where we are in the line when it comes to global affairs.

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  11. Apparently, it was an indian named “Preeta Bansal” who the president of USCIRF. So the Indian government should ban her from entering India forever.

  12. The U.S. made its decision based on India’s National Human Rights Commission. So they should be banned from entering India forever.

    Oops, Rajnish.

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