Modi US visa row: BJP gets aggressive as MPs back down

The idea was to cause embarrassment to Narendra Modi in perpetuity. It ended up embarrassing those who tried to ensure that he does not get a US visa instead. The Indian American Muslim Council (IAMC) which campaigned for a letter from Indian lawmakers against Modi and supposedly obtained their signatures, real or cut-and-paste, surely has left a lot of MPs red faced.

The controversy around the current letter, bearing signatures of 25 Rajya Sabha members and 40 from the Lok Sabha, first sent to Obama on 26 November, then on 5 December last year and re-sent on Sunday is because of its content. It says: "We wish to respectfully urge you to maintain the current policy of denying Mr Modi a visa to the United States".

Adding to their discomfiture is a Washington Post story which begins by saying: "It is almost unthinkable that Indian lawmakers would appeal to the United States to take a stand on an internal matter. Most Indian politicians, many of whom still nurse a Cold War-era suspicion of Washington, would bristle at the very thought of it."

It was thus not without reason that CPM leader and Rajya Sabha member Sitaram Yechury did not waste time in denying that he signed on any such letter. He appeared to be at discomfort on being publicised as being a co-author of a letter that was addressed to the American President to respectfully urge him to intervene in a domestic political and legal issue.

Narendra Modi in this file photo. PTI

Narendra Modi in this file photo. PTI

"There is news circulating that I am a signatory to a petition to the US president asking for the denial of US visa for the Gujarat CM. I deny having signed any such letter. It is neither in my character nor in the principles of my party to petition any sovereign country on matters that fall strictly within sovereign domain of that country. It is this very principle that leads us to strongly oppose and denounce any external interference into Indias internal affairs undermining its sovereignty," Yechury said.

"Much of this controversy is taking place in cyberspace. The one circulating in cyberspace, now many months after it was allegedly signed, is typed on the letterhead of a MP which carries the insignia of our national symbol, the Ashok Chakra. The heading under which some signatures are appended says, 'names and signatures of indian MPs'. Strange, which other country's MPs would sign on the letterhead of the Indian Parliament? This itself sugests some efforts at cut and paste," he added.

DMK MP KP Ramalingam followed Yechury in issuing a denial. "I have not signed any letter to the US regarding Narendra Modi's visa. I am not a US Senator. I am a Rajya Sabha MP. Why would I interfere in their things," he said.

Then came NCP MP Sanjeev Naik and two others. Naik, incidentally, is a Lok Sabha member but his name figures in the letter sent by a Rajya Sabha member. Naik says he will petition Lok Sabha Speaker Meira Kumar to look into the matter. Two more MPs have denied signing the letter.

But then the man behind the campaign, Mohammed Adeeb, Independent Rajya Sabha member, claims that it was duly signed by Yechury and others. CPI MP Sayeed Aziz, too, claims that the signatures on the letter by Yechury and other leaders are authentic.

The BJP sees this as a good opportunity to target political rivals. It now wants to make the letter a big issue and "expose the hypocrisy" of rivals, including the Congress. Party spokesperson Nirmala Sitharaman said in a series of tweets, "don't trust Indian Courts. Seeking external assistance to prop up their unjust cause. A third umpire in the USA for an Indian pol fight?". Again “external help to contain Shri Narendra Modi? Politically these 65 MPs have failed to engage with him. Sponsored activists”.

The BJP leaders think that they have caught the writers of the letter on the wrong foot and are keen to gain some political mileage. After all, it has been a while they have found an issue when they could go aggressive on Brand Modi.