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Human Rights Violations or Political Expediency?

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April 2005
Human Rights Violations or Political Expediency?

By DHIRU SHAH

Many in the Indian-American community are outraged and appalled at the recent U.S. decision to cancel Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi's tourist/business visa and deny him a diplomatic visa. While every nation has the right to deny visas to foreigners, the grounds on which this decision was made raises serious doubt about the real motive of American foreign policy towards India.

Modi was denied a visa under the U.S. Immigration and Nationality Act and the International Religious Act, which prohibit entry to this country of any foreign government official responsible for serious violations of religious freedom. When applying this law, the State Department's Mr. Adam Ereli noted, "It's a matter of U.S. responding to NHRC (National Human Rights Commission) finding [which points] to a comprehensive failure of the Gujarat government to control persistent violation of rights."

Reacting to the above, a top NHRC official denied condemning Modi and commented, "There was no indictment in general of Modi or his government". It means that NHRC was wrongly implicated in the American decision to deny a visa to Modi. Even most Indian political leaders, setting aside their political differences, condemned the U.S. action. The Indian government also lodged a strong protest with the American government and asked it to review its decision. Notwithstanding the NHRC's and the Indian government's reactions, Modi, constitutionally elected with more than a 2/3rd majority in the world's largest democracy, has neither been charged with nor found guilty of being "responsible for or [having] directly carried out particularly severe violations of religious freedom" by any court of law in India.

Obviously, the American decision to deny Modi a visa must have been made on factors other than those cited by the State Department. Ever since passing the anti-conversion law in Gujarat, Modi has been the target of Christian Evangelists, upon whose strength President Bush was recently reelected. They and their supporting allies ? fundamentalist Islamists, Marxists/Leftists and a score of so-called human rights organizations in India and the U.S. ? had spearheaded a virulent and malicious anti-Modi campaign over the last several months. By making Modi the scapegoat, this government has not only satisfied the main Christian vote bank but has also mollified the Islamic world which hates America for its several human rights violations, including the invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq. And this, of course, was done at the expense of India.

The well-orchestrated ?Stop Modi' campaign was based on innuendoes, lies and gross misrepresentations of facts about the Gujarat riots and Modi's response to those riots. The campaign theme was to demonize Modi while distorting the facts about the provocative cause of the Gujarat riots, the alleged premeditated Godhra massacre where 58 innocent Hindu pilgrims, mainly women and children, were burnt alive by a mob of Muslims who set a train compartment on fire. Another lie was invented to project Modi as a promoter of racial supremacy, racial hatred and Nazism through a high school textbook. The truth is "that book was prepared, published, and enlisted as a prescribed textbook in 1992 when neither Mr. Modi nor the BJP were anywhere near power in Gujarat which was then ruled by the Congress." (Kanchan Gupta, Pioneer, 3/20/05).

While the U.S. denied Modi a visa based on religious and human rights violations, it paradoxically ignores the Human Rights Watch's denunciation of countries such as Saudi Arabia, China and Pakistan (all autocracies) when granting diplomatic visas to their leaders. Surely, these countries aren't exactly a shining epitome of religious freedom. Irish-Americans were permitted to host Gerry Adams of Sinn Fein, despite Adam's persecution of Irish Protestants. It is obvious that the American definitions of human rights abuses and religious intolerance are based on political expediency and convenience. Unfortunately, when the world's most powerful country sets its foreign policy based on double standards, hypocrisy and a complete disregard of its own human rights violations for centuries, it risks losing its moral authority and respect in the world.

In denying a visa to Modi, the U.S. has insulted India and Indian-Americans living here. It has created a worldwide perception that America still considers India a ?Banana Republic', which can be a pushover. Undoubtedly, the Modi episode has severely undermined the growing relationship between the U.S. and India.

And finally, those Indians and NRIs who have joined the anti-Modi forces for their own political or financial agenda, should realize that they have unknowingly become a tool in the hands of those forces that are trying to Balkanize and destroy India. Have we forgotten the East India Company and the consequent colonization of India?���

[This article was solicited to offer another viewpoint to the Khabar editorial on the subject. Mr. Dhiru Shah is president of India Awareness Foundation and a director of the National Federation of Indian Associations]


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