NEW DELHI – 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 couldn't have been easy, then, for 65 members of India's parliament to fax a letter to President Obama on Sunday requesting that his government not grant a visa to the controversial Hindu nationalist politician Narendra Modi, the chief minister of the state of Gujarat. The lawmakers had sent the same letter last year as well.
Modi is emerging as the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party’s likely candidate for prime minister in the national elections next year. But he has been accused by international human rights groups of looking the other way when Hindu-Muslim religious violence paralyzed his state in 2002. Over 1,000 people died in the riots, most of them Muslims.
After widespread criticism, the U.S. denied him a visa to visit in 2005.
Within India, Modi’s political stature has risen since the 2002 Gujarat violence. He's seen as pro-business and his state hosts the factories of U.S. companies such as Ford and General Motors. At a time when the national government headed by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is plagued by corruption allegations, Modi's reputation for administrative efficiency is serving him well. He has not expressed regret for the riots and has said that the charges against him are politically motivated.
Many European nations have renewed ties with him.
Earlier this week, the president of Modi's party, Rajnath Singh, told reporters in New York that he will urge Washington to reconsider the visa denial. That prompted the group of lawmakers who had earlier written Obama to once again send their letter, which they released to the Indian media on Tuesday.
"We wish to respectfully urge you to maintain the current policy of denying Mr. Modi a visa to the United States,” said the letter, signed by mostly Muslim lawmakers from several parties, including the ruling Congress Party. “Given that legal cases against the culprits including many senior officials in Mr. Modi's administration are still pending in the court of law, any revoking of the ban at this juncture would be seen as a dismissal of the issues concerning Mr. Modi's role in the horrific massacres of 2002. It would legitimize Mr. Modi's human rights violations and seriously impact the nature of US-India relations by sending a message that the United States values economic interests over and above the universal values of human rights and justice.”
The Times Now television news channel ran a primetime debate on Tuesday titled, "Is it appropriate for Indian politicians to drag their fight with Modi to Washington’s court?"
Jay Narayan Vyas, a senior colleague of Modi in the Gujarat government, said it was like “washing dirty linen outside the country."
“Please maintain national dignity, we are the largest democracy in the world,” said former diplomat Gopalaswami Parthasarathy
On Twitter, it fueled humor.
Obama must be very busy today. He has to reply to 65 letters. From Indian MPs.
— Ramesh Srivats (@rameshsrivats) July 23, 2013