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U.S. Denies Visa to Indian Hindu Nationalist

By Rama Lakshmi
Special to The Washington Post
Saturday, March 19, 2005; Page A21

NEW DELHI, March 18 -- The United States has revoked the visa of a Hindu nationalist leader on grounds that he was responsible for violating religious freedom three years ago during rioting in Gujarat state that killed more than 1,000 people, most of them Muslims, the U.S. Embassy said Friday.

The chief minister of Gujarat, Narendra Modi, of the Bharatiya Janata Party, had been scheduled to address the Asian-American Hotel Owners Association in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., and a public meeting in New York. He was also to have met with business leaders. The visit to the United States had been scheduled to start Sunday.

Narendra Modi, chief minister of Gujarat state, expressed anger after his visa was revoked by the U.S., which says he was responsible for violating religious freedom in 2002 during sectarian riots. (Amit Dave -- Reuters)

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"We can confirm that the Chief Minister of Gujarat state Narendra Modi applied for but was denied the diplomatic visa" under the Immigration and Nationality Act, said a U.S. Embassy statement. The visa was revoked under a provision of the act "which makes any government official who was responsible for or directly carried out at any time, particularly severe violations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," according to the statement.

Human rights groups, including New York-based Human Rights Watch, have accused Modi's government of ignoring or tacitly supporting angry Hindu mobs in reprisals that began after Muslim extremists were accused of torching a train carrying Hindu activists, killing 59. A government investigation concluded this past January that the fire was accidental.

In 2003, the Indian Supreme Court described Gujarat officials as "modern-day Neros" and said the riots had taken place "with the deliberate connivance and support" of Modi's government.

Reacting angrily to the visa denial, Modi said at a news conference in Gandhinagar, the Gujarat state capital, that the decision was "an insult to the Indian constitution and it is an attack on Indian sovereignty."

"Will India also consider what America has done in Iraq when it processes visa applications of Americans coming to India?" he asked.

India's foreign minister, Natwar Singh, called for a meeting with U.S. Embassy officials.

"The foreign secretary asked that we review the decision, and I said I will report that back to Washington," said Robert O. Blake, the embassy's deputy chief of mission.

Critics in India and the United States had protested Modi's U.S. visit. "We are very happy with the denial of visa," said Shabnam Hashmi, an activist who coordinated a protest from New Delhi. "The visit was an attempt by the right-wing Hindu groups in America to resurrect his tarnished image."

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