Bangalore, Aug 17: There is no doubt now that NaMo is the most-talked about political personality in India and globally. Thanks to an interview with Katrina Lantos Swett, vice chairwoman of the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom.
It is a bipartisan government commission that reviews instances of religious freedom violations and frames policy recommendations to the president, the secretary of state and Congress about the commission's insistence on denying visa to Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi.
Although the interview clearly stated her concerns about Narendra Modi and his alleged 'violent' streak in Godra riots, it was apparent that the basis of her report had innumerable flaws, thus nullifying NaMo's tarnished image as a Hindu nationalist in a negative way. Here are certain excerpts (from the interview with Maroosha Muzaffar, posted on New York Times) and our arguments against them.
Q. On a recent panel, you requested the U.S. State Department to continue the visa ban on Narendra Modi, the chief minister of the Indian state of Gujarat. Mr. Modi is the de facto prime ministerial candidate for India's Bharatiya Janata Party for the country's national elections in 2014. How does the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom see these developments?
A. For the people of India, I think it is important for them to consider very carefully who it is who they want to be their next prime minister. It is no outside nation's or no individual's role to tell them who should be the next leader of India. But I think it is a bit of information that will help them as they go through that electoral process. It is our view and view of many others that Mr. Modi shall not be granted the privilege of U.S. visa because of the very serious doubts that remain and that hang over Mr. Modi relative to his role in the horrific events of 2002 in Gujarat.
The International Religious Freedoms Act, under which we were created, provides very specifically for the requirement that our government should not issue visas to officials that are implicated in serious abuses of religious freedom rights. That provision absolutely applies in this instance. While it is impossible to project down the road, we feel it is important to stand up for the principle involved here, which is that really terrible things happened during his leadership in Gujarat. There are many, many unanswered questions that remain, there are at are many grave allegations, there are huge doubts.
Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi is greeted by a Muslim at a reception hosted in Bhuj in Kutch district on the eve of the Independence day on Wednesday.
The electrifying Bhuj speech
Gujrat Chief Minister Narendra Modi addressing at the 67th Independence day celebrations in Bhuj, Gujrat.
A leader on the move
Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi waves to the crowd during the 67th Independence day celebrations in Bhuj, Gujarat.
NaMo opens arms to all
Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi gives his Independence Day speech in at Lalan College in Bhuj.
Counter-argument: You are right in saying that a country's governance should be its own and no one else's. Who else would know that better than us? The internal affairs and its loopholes are not unknown to us Indians so the choice that we are making is "carefully considered".
You suggest that the US Visa policies are not for those "implicated" in "serious abuses". But, madam, with due respect to your visa policies, how on earth do terrorists get an entry? WE know, you would react saying that the policies have been rehashed post 9/11, but is your country foolproof? We think not.
Moreover, allegations against NaMo have not been proved. There are absolutely no documents to prove he is guilty. There might be allegations, but no implications yet. Hope we have corrected you on that.
Q. Indian courts have not yet found any evidence of Mr. Modi's involvement in the 2002 violence in Gujarat. You say that there are still some grave allegations, some doubts hanging over his role in the 2002 riots.
A. As you know, one of his ministers (Maya Kodnani) was recently convicted for her role in these events. Given the nature of the way the governments function, it is highly unlikely at the very least that this minister would have been engaged to the degree that she was without the knowledge, without the direction from Mr. Modi.
There is of course the very damning sworn notarized affidavit of former deputy commissioner of police Sanjeev Bhatt, which is really an eyewitness account. He is not simply providing sworn testimony as to events that happened on the streets.
His testimony is also regarding things that were said by Mr. Modi in his presence. There are very powerful letters that were signed by 65 members of the lower house and upper house and they cite a number of grave concerns.
And let's set aside, just for a moment, whether or not Mr. Modi was directly complicit in the events of 2002. There is a lot to be troubled about what has happened since or what has failed to happen.
Legal accountability, you know, when you think of the numbers that were killed, the incredible number of rapes, the vast displacement, the burning and trashing of property, there should have been by now significant numbers of people held legally accountable. We find that that really hasn't happened.
There have been very few convictions. One of the things that concern us is that Mr. Modi seems more concerned with rehabilitating his own reputation than with providing recompense and rehabilitation for the surviving victims of those terrible events. Where are the reparations that have been paid? Where are the public apologies, public accounting for what went on?
These to me are all indications that to some degree we are seeing a very ambitious man more focused on his political rehabilitation than on really righting the wrongs.
I think there is a difference between whether or not one can be held legally liable or accountable for something and going so far as to say a clean bill of health, a clean chit. Certainly in our system of justice you can be found not guilty, which is not the same thing as found innocent.
Under these circumstances we should follow our laws, which say that we should not give a visa. Of course Mr. Modi wants us to reverse our position because that would be part of his rehabilitation process. But perhaps it would be more instructive for observers and analysts and voters in India to have that piece of information as they evaluate whether or not he is the man who should lead India.
Counter-argument: Our honorable speaker here does not know that Maya Kodnani was only a legislator and not a Minister in 2002, who is far from being connected to NaMo when it came to decision-making at that very moment.
Moreover, the notarized affidavit of the former deputy commissioner of police, Sanjeev Bhatt was not even taken into account by the Supreme Court. Madam, if you did not know, SC is the apex court, which governs the government too.
Furthermore consider this, the powerful letters by the 65 members of the "lower court" (MPs) were disowned by them, claiming that there was a forgery and a parliamentary enquiry into the matter was ordered by the Speaker of the Indian Parliament.
You say Modi is more concerned about "rehabilitating his own reputation than with providing recompense and rehabilitation for the surviving victims"?, we say he is th ebest example of a pro-business, pro-development leader,bringing about the economic growth and making difficult decisions. Ask the muslim communities in Gujarat and you would know what we mean.
We are not here to defend Modi or argue for his US Visa, but to show that there are very few who have the courage to deliver an electrifying speech 40-50 kilometers from the Indo-Pak border at Kutch on the day of Indian Independence, while the country was fighting Pakistan in Poonch for infiltration.
We, however, have a question for you. Assuming he becomes the next PM, would your visa policies still remain the same? Or would you choose to alienate yourself from India.