It is now highly unlikely that Modi bhai will visit Uncle Sam this year, simply because he won't get a visa.
Modi was invited for the World Gujarati Conference in New Jersey in August. But even before he could apply for a visa advocacy groups in the US and Canada uniting under the banner of 'Coalition Against Genocide' (CAG) wrote to the Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice saying, "We urge the State Department not to allow Mr.Modi to enter the country under any conditions, as the circumstances under which he was denied a visa in 2005 remain largely unchanged, and the minority communities in his state continue to face systematic human rights violations."
In 2005 the State Department denied him a diplomatic visa because the purpose of his visit was not deemed to be so. They also revoked his tourist and business visa and Modi had to end up addressing an NRI gathering via video link. CAG had also been busy on other fronts. They lobbied Chris Matthews, TV anchor for MSNBC's 'Hardball', to decline from speaking at a convention where Modi was the chief guest. Sponsor 'American Express' also pulled out.
The CAG's plea has been backed by a US government agency, the Commission on International Religious Freedom which also urged the State Department to "reaffirm its past decision." Commission chair Felice D. Gaer said, "As official bodies of the government of India have found, Narendra Modi is culpable for the egregious and systematic human rights abuses wrought against thousands of India's Muslims. Mr. Modi must demonstrate to the State Department and to the American people why he – as a person found to have aided and abetted gross violations of human rights, including religious freedom – should now be eligible for a tourist visa."
This is the right question to ask a man who has been entirely unrepentant and who has unfortunately gone unpunished in India. Modi may yet scoff defiantly at these words but they should also tell him that Newton's third law of motion, which he so infamously quoted after the riots, is back to bite him.
Meanwhile, Modi's popularity with certain NRI groups reflects poorly on them. Economic development and administrative efficiency are often invoked as a justification for their support. But this argument makes serious mockery of the word "development" when people can be lynched and raped on the streets of Gujarat and no justice is done to them six years later. These admirers of Modi should in fact use their proximity to pressure him to apologise for what happened.
In the US some people conflate criticism of Israel with being anti-Semitic. Similarly conflating criticism of Modi with being anti-Gujarati or anti-Hindu has become a popular way to abuse those who seek accountability for 2002. But any rational person will tell you the difference.
Also, jaded arguments about Modi being "democratically elected" do not concede that he has not been made to answer for his culpability in the riots.
So till his friends in the US and elsewhere confront him on his complicity in 2002 their support will be morally suspect.
Meanwhile the US administration is right in taking a tough line. And for those fighting against his hateful, communal brand of politics this is a shot in the arm. These symbolic snubs will have to suffice for now till real action can someday be taken.
Published on the NDTV.com website on July 14th, 2008.