NEW DELHI – It’s a rarity for the United States to lend its ear to Indian human rights campaigners, let alone take any action on their petitions. But Washington’s cancellation Friday of a U.S. visa given to right-wing politician Narendra Modi, blamed by human rights groups for the deaths of more than 2,000 Muslims in Gujarat state in 2002, was an exception.
"We campaigned intensely for this outcome said," said Shabnam Hashmi, head of the well- known New Delhi-based rights group Anhad that works with the U.S.-based Coalition Against Genocide.
"Modi is not an ordinary elected leader as is being made out in some quarters he is infamous for his active abetment of the most brutal massacre of a segment of India’s citizens after the country became free in 1947," Hashmi told IPS.
Modi, from the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), is the chief minister of Gujarat and human rights groups say that in early 2002 about 2,500 people, most of them Muslims, were hacked, burned or beaten to death in the state, after 59 Hindu pilgrims and activists had died on a train in a blaze some blamed on a Muslim mob.
Modi denied accusations that he deliberately did nothing to stop the slaughter of Muslims during the riots, and said police took firm action. But witnesses and human rights groups say police did nothing to stop Hindu mobs attacking Muslims and in some cases herded victims into the hands of their killers.
"Modi’s policies of hatred should not be legitimized even by association by the international community. It is for this reason that we welcome the decision of the U.S. government," said Hashmi.
Modi was to have paid a five-day visit to the United States from Sunday at the invitation of U.S.-Indian business groups formed by Gujarati Indians.
The Gujarat chief minister’s tourist/business visa was canceled by the U.S. State Department under a law that 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."
Modi then applied for a diplomatic visa, but it was turned down. According to a U.S. embassy spokesman in Delhi, the purpose of his visit to the United States did not qualify him for such a visa.
"We can confirm that chief minister of Gujarat state Narendra Modi applied for, but was denied, a diplomatic visa under section 214 (b) of the Immigration and Nationality Act because he was not coming for the purpose that qualified him for a diplomatic visa," added the spokesman.
Among his engagements, Modi was to have addressed the Gujarati-dominated Asian- American Hotel Owners Association in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.
Not all Indo-American groups were happy to welcome Modi and indeed several groups had threatened to hold protest demonstrations against him in Florida and also in New York.
But what may have influenced the decision was a damning letter dated March 7 written to U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice by Congressman Joe Pitts and 21 other congressmen demanding that Modi be denied entry.
"Numerous inquiries by Indian officials and non-government organizations have determined that the BJP state government in Gujarat, led by Chief Minister Modi, provided leadership and material support for the rape and murder of over 2,000 people, including women and young children, and the destruction of homes, businesses and resources primarily belonging to Indian Muslims," said the letter.
"Mr. Modi made public statements and directed official actions seemingly calculated at justifying his orders to increase attacks on and kill religious minorities while ordering the police not to interfere," it added.
The letter quoted the New York-based rights organization Human Rights Watch as saying that the "attacks against Muslims (and other religious minorities) in Gujarat have been actively supported by state (BJP) government officials and by the police."
Furthermore, a recent U.S. State Department report indicated that that in "Gujarat, there continued to be credible evidence of prejudice in favor of Hindus and an unwritten policy of impunity against the perpetrators of the 2002 religious violence."
Indian ministry of external affairs spokesman, Navtej Sarna, said the government "expresses its deep concern and regret" at the visa denial. "The action on the part of the U.S. embassy is uncalled for and displays lack of courtesy and sensitivity toward a constitutionally elected chief minister."
Earlier India’s External Affairs Minister Natwar Singh told reporters that the issue would be taken up with Washington since his ministry had endorsed Modi’s U.S. tour and had requested that he be given a multiple-entry visa. U.S. deputy chief of mission in Delhi, Robert Blake, said he would convey to Washington the Indian government’s request to review the decision.
But Anhad’s Hashmi said she was disturbed that the Congress-led, United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government that swears by secularism had chosen to take up the revocation of Modi’s visa with the U.S. Embassy in New Delhi and even "summoned" deputy chief of the mission Robert Blake to the Ministry of External Affairs.
What’s disconcerting is that the U.S. State Department itself had discussed in one of its reports of Modi’s role in promoting attitudes of racial supremacy, racial hatred, and the legacy of Nazism through his government’s support of school textbooks in which Nazism is condoned.
For example, in a high school social studies textbook, the "charismatic personality" of "Hitler the Supremo" and the "achievements" of Nazism are described at length. The textbook does not even acknowledge Nazi extermination policies or concentration camps except for a passing reference to "a policy of opposition toward the Jewish people and [advocacy for] the supremacy of the German race."