U.S. Congressmen felt granting a visa to him would be contradictory to international law.
Lobbying by U.S. lawmakers, concern over extra-judicial deaths in Gujarat and the tenth anniversary of the 2002 anti-Muslim riots in the state combined into a multi-year wave of pressure against any possibility of the White House revising its decision to deny Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi an entry visa, according to U.S. State Department cables and other documents obtained by The Hindu through a Freedom of Information.
U.S. lawmakers pressed for sustained visa denial
In part, the Department’s close tracking of the legal challenges facing Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi stemmed from, and was used to compile a response to, pressure from domestic political constituencies that were intent on keeping the visa ban against Mr. Modi intact.
Between 2005 and 2008, at least 30 U.S. Congressmen wrote to the administration asking that Mr. Modi “should once again be denied admission to the U.S… [because] granting a visa to [him] would be contradictory to international law and would only serve to validate the Chief Minister’s abhorrent policies and actions.”
Most of the lawmakers focused on reports by the State Department and others that the Gujarat police in 2002 “were criticised for failing to stop the violence, and in some cases participating or encouraging it,” some referencing the 2003 Indian Supreme Court finding that “The state government of Gujarat led by Mr. Modi, had actively supported the anti-Muslim violence and ordered the police not to interfere.”
Of those who petitioned the State Department in this regard, 28 were Republicans, many Tea Party members, who made references to continuing tensions facing the Christian minority community in Gujarat.
Two members Keith Ellison and André Carson were from the Democratic Party, and drew attention to the fate of Muslims during the riots, including “the rape, gang-rape, and molestation of hundreds of Muslim women.”
In their responses to the Congressmen’s letters the State Department made a candid comment about Mr. Modi: “The Department of State is extremely sensitive to your concerns and we are cognisant of the human rights abuses Mr. Modi has committed.”
According to reports the Department said in its reply to the Congressmen’s letters that at the time no visa application for Mr. Modi had been located in their system and should one arrive it would be “adjudicated in strict accordance with the Immigration and Naturalisation Act,” including restrictions for those who violated religious freedom laws.
Concern over extra-judicial killings
Further, in 2011, several cables hinted at Washington’s concern surrounding extra-judicial killings in the state – notably the Ishrat Jahan ‘encounter killing’ case and the Haren Pandya whistleblower assassination episode.
Regarding the former, a U.S. cable dated April 2013 (DTG: 021156Z APR 13; CONFIDENTIAL, SENSITIVE) commented upon the arrest of five senior Gujarat police officers between February 21 and March 6 2013, on charges stemming from the 2004 killing of four Muslims, including a teenaged girl, Ishrat Jahan.
The officers had allegedly killed the innocent youths and falsified evidence to make them appear to be terrorists, the cable explained, adding, “Critics of… Modi say that these fake encounters were not the work of rogue officers but were an official state policy designed to instil fear [in] Muslims.”
Not only did the cable go on to quote retired police officer R.B. Sreekumar, former head of the Gujarat state intelligence during April-September 2002 corroborating this view, but the diplomatic mission directly spoke to those familiar with the matter to obtain further details.
Quoting a person whose name had been redacted the cable said, “… told ConGen Staff in March that the accused police officers feel they are scapegoats for implementing an official state policy to carry out extra-judicial killings. He added that the officers believe that the state government abandoned them after the SIT report was submitted… [and] have decided to vigorously contest the charges and to prove they were not ultimately responsible.”
The cable also cited a Tehelka magazine report, which said that during 2002-06 the Ahmedabad police, “killed approximately 17 individuals they then alleged were terrorists.”
The second aspect of extra-judicial killings that drew the attention of the U.S. was the 2003 “mysterious assassination” of Haren Pandya, whom a cable dated September 2011 (DTG: 090413Z SEP 11; UNCLAS, SENSITIVE) described as “a vocal critic of… Modi.” Further, Pandya’s family believed that “his murder was a deeper political conspiracy by Modi to silence Pandya,” the cable said.
The case came up again in 2011 after the Gujarat high court reversed the earlier conviction of 12 Muslims accused of murdering Mr. Pandya, and the cable said that the re-opening of the case could “bring to light new information regarding Pandya’s killing and potentially cause political and legal headaches for… Modi as he prepares for the 2012 state elections.”
The cable appeared particularly seized of the fact that the Gujarat High Court had criticised the Central Bureau of Investigation for accepting the Gujarat police theory that Mr. Pandya’s killing was “Muslim revenge for the 2002 anti-Muslim violence.” Accepting the verdict, the CBI has indicated that it would re-open the murder investigation, the cable underscored.
Finally the tenth anniversary of the 2002 Gujarat riots was a rallying point for those who criticised the slowness in the delivery of justice to the victims, according to the cables.
In a cable dated March 2012 (DTG: 010723Z MAR 12; SENSITIVE, UNCLAS) to Washington the Mumbai consulate said that commemoration events in Gujarat passed peacefully, with victims highlighting not only their painful experiences, but also the lack of compensation and rehabilitation for Muslims whose homes and businesses were destroyed during the violence.
“Ten years later, not everyone is convinced that Gujarat has moved on, and the riots remain Modi’s biggest obstacle to his national political ambitions,” the cable said.
In the face of public comments by Arun Jaitley, then the BJP’s leader in the Rajya Sabha, that “Gujarat has had a riot-free decade,” and that Mr. Modi’s opponents were using NGOs and media, the U.S. documented remarks by a name-redacted contact in Gujarat who said to them privately, “When you have succeeded in killing people and putting Muslims in ghettos, then there is no need for communal violence.”
The cable seemed to suggest that the U.S. was convinced that justice had not yet been served to riot survivors. It noted that an estimated 200,000 Muslims fled their homes after the riots, approximately 30,000 still lived in relief colonies, and more than 70,000 relocated to Muslim ghettos after selling their properties and businesses in previously mixed neighbourhoods to Hindu neighbours.
Additionally, given that the Gujarat government had not at the time compensated victims for property loss and “refused to rebuild places of worship and denied building permissions when communities wanted to rebuild on their own,” the cable posited, “the taint of the 2002 riots will continue to linger on into the 2014 national election campaign, when Modi will be angling to be the BJP’s candidate for Prime Minister.”
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