Narendra Modi might not be itching to go to Washington DC. But it’s hard not to see the letter from 25 American lawmakers urging the US Secretary of State to continue denying him an American visa as anything but a snub. Especially because it comes on the heels of the Great Western Thaw where the Brits are trying to let bygones be bygones.
Modi is barred from entering the US because of a provision of the International Religious Freedom Act. George W Bush invoked it against him. And the Obama administration has not revoked it even though its Congressional Research Service has praised the “impressive development successes” under Modi.
The latest letter keeps up the pressure. The lawmakers write:
As there has been no further resolution to these issues and justice has yet to be fully realized for the victims of the riots, we ask that you continue to deny Mr Modi a visa. As Mr Modi continues to pursue a potential run for higher office, we believe a change in policy to his request for a visa will only embolden Modi and his government's efforts to obstruct further investigations and the tandem prosecutions that have still to be finished to bring the perpetrators to justice.
What’s noteworthy about this letter, even though there is nothing new about its content, is it does not come from just predictably bleeding heart liberals but from across the US political spectrum — from the deepest blue to the fieriest red. The signers also come from across the country geographically — from New Jersey to California, from Arizona to Michigan.
The letter was released on Capitol Hill by Congressmen Joe Pitts and Frank Wolf.
Pitts who has been in the US House of Representatives since 1997 is a hardline conservative. He has received 100 percent ratings from the American Conservatives Union for his voting record. He’s a big advocate for nuclear power and pro-business. He routinely gets close to zero ratings from labour groups. Pitts came to Gujarat in 2002 and told Outlook he cannot forget the bloodstains he had seen in Ehsan Jafri’s house. Ten years later he sees no reason to change his stance on Modi. “I’m still concerned that...Modi and his cohorts have not been held to account for their actions,” he told Outlookin 2011.
Frank Wolf is also Republican and a long time congressman from Virginia. He’s been a military hawk, a huge supporter of the Iraq war and the Patriot Act. But he’s also been a vocal critic of China on human rights as well as the persecution of Bahais in Iran.
Now contrast these two with some of the others who have signed on to the letter as well.
Barbara Lee, Democratic congresswoman from California is about as radical a liberal as can get elected to US Congress. She remains the only member of the US Congress who voted against the authorisation of use of force after 9/11 and a hero of the anti-war movement during the Iraq war. She’s voted to pull American troops out of Afghanistan, Pakistan and Libya.
Mike Honda, a long time Congressman from Silicon Valley spent some of his early years in a Japanese American internment camp and that’s something that has had a profound influence on his politics. Honda attended the first Washington State Summit on US-India trade this year in Seattle which showcased the Vibrant Gujarat 2013 roadshow. The roadshow issued a press release about it. But back in 2003, he also congratulated the Indian Muslim Council-USA for hosting an interfaith convention. That convention featured Nishrin Husain, the daughter of Ehsan Jafri.
Some lawmakers have signed on clearly because of long standing relations with the American Muslim community which Modi’s backers have not been able to match. Bill Pascrell, Democrat form New Jersey is closely associated with Council on American-Islamic Relations. His hometown of Paterson has a large Arab population though New Jersey has a strong Gujarati population as well.
Some have signed on to the letter because like Congressman Trent Franks, Republican from Arizona, they are members of the International Religious Freedom Caucus. Others are just well-known India-baiters. Dan Burton, conservative Republican from Indiana, is a founding member of the Pakistan Caucus and took money from Syed Ghulam Nabi Fai’s Kashmir Center and vigorously championed the Kashmiri American Council till it was revealed that it was a front for the ISI.
The liberal members have opposed Modi from the human rights angle. Jim Moran is a Democrat who was arrested along with George Clooney outside the Sudanese Embassy for protesting human rights abuses by the government of Sudan. Michael Capuano of Massachusetts has been very vocal about the plight of the victims of the crisis in Sudan. Edward Markey is a member of the Congressional Progressive Caucus John Conyers, one of the longest serving Congressmen in Washington DC, is the last remaining member of the Judiciary Committee that voted to impeach Nixon.
Back in 2005 when Modi was invited to Florida to address the Asian America Hotel Owners Association, Conyers submitted a House Resolution condemning the Modi’s role during the riots in Gujarat. Not only that, as Martha Nussbaum writes in her book The Clash Within: Democracy, Religious Violence and India’s Future, Conyers’ resolution also gave Modi a black mark for “promoting the attitudes of racial supremacy, racial hatred, and the legacy of Nazism through his government’s support of school textbooks in which Nazism is glorified.”
To many people’s surprise, including the US India Muslim Council, the Bush administration denied Modi a diplomatic visa and revoked his tourist visa. The BJP cried foul calling it an “insult to the entire nation” and Modi called it an “insult to India and the Constitution”.
But the “insult” has endured.
The BJP might now put on a brave face with its leader Balbir Punj scoffing “If he needs any visa or blessing it is from people of Gujarat.” But Narendra Modi certainly makes for strange political bedfellows in Washingon – hardline conservatives and diehard liberals. Modi’s supporters can take some comfort, cold as it might be, in the fact that Modi succeeds where even Obama fails – he can bring together hardline conservatives and diehard liberals in common cause.