Chicago: A US Congressman who has mounted a campaign to revoke the ban on an American visa for Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi says in the "trying economic times" the US "could learn a great deal from him".
"Mr Modi has been recognized across the world for his staunch stance against corruption and for making Gujarat a shining example of the successes that pro-growth, limited government policies can create. In the US's trying economic times, we could learn a great deal from him. Instead of denying him a visa, we should be inviting him to apply," Republican Congressman Joe Walsh, who represents Illinois' 8th district from the Chicago area, told IANS in an interview.
In recent months, at the urging of his particularly vocal Indian American constituents, Congressman Walsh has stepped up his campaign to end the seven-year-old ban by writing to Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton. In a letter dated June 13, 2012, Mr Walsh said, "The basis on which Mr Modi was denied a diplomatic visa was unfounded and not in compliance with US law."
Mr Walsh is a controversial figure known for his strong anti-big government views and is seen as a favorite of the Tea Party movement, implacably opposed to the Obama administration generally and President Barack Obama personally. In certain sections of Chicago's Indian American community, particularly those who support Mr Modi, he is a popular figure.
The ban on Mr Modi was imposed in 2005 when George W Bush was president and has been continued by his successor Barack Obama. It was imposed under a section of the Immigration and Nationality Act relating to foreign government officials "who have committed particularly severe violations of religious freedom." In the case of the Gujarat chief minister, the 2002 Gujarat riots, in which hundreds of Muslims were killed, were the primary cause that triggered this particular section.
However, it is Mr Walsh's argument that Mr Modi "has never been tried nor convicted, as required under this statute, of any religious crimes in any country. Regardless, the statute states that he can be denied a visa only up to 24 months after a conviction. The allegations arose in 2002; it is now 2012."
In a reply to the Congressman dated July 3, 2012, David S Adams, Assistant Secretary, Legislative Affairs at the State Department, countered the argument. He said that the two-year limitation cited by Mr Walsh was eliminated under a section of the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004. "This provision now makes persons found to have committed these acts permanently ineligible for a visa. No conviction is required," Mr Adams said. However he said, "Should Mr Modi submit a new application for a visa in the future, he will be given every possible consideration consistent with US law and policy."
Notwithstanding that, Mr Walsh maintained in his interview that both the administrations have got this issue wrong. "Mr Modi has neither been tried nor convicted of any religious crimes in any country," he said.
Asked how hopeful he is of a resolution of this case, Mr Walsh told IANS: "I would not be taking on this cause if I were not hopeful that a resolution was possible. This is an important issue to many of my constituents and I plan on seeing it through."
On how aware he is of the extent of violence, widely seen in India as being at the very least connived at by the Modi government, he said, "I am aware of the unfortunate violence in the region, but from what I have read and heard, there is no evidence that Mr Modi was behind or supported those actions. In fact, it appears as though Mr Modi has rightly made attempts to try to bring together the Hindu and Muslim groups to ensure that future violence does not occur. A goal everyone shares."
Mr Walsh said he has spoken to Mr Modi "briefly by phone."
He also said he knows about the conviction of Mr Modi's former education and children welfare minister Maya Kodnani but disagreed that brought complicity potentially a step closer to the chief minister.
"Mr Modi himself has not been convicted and therefore, as we hold in the United States, he is innocent until proven guilty. If we forbid every leader into this country because someone in his administration was involved in a scandal, the list of foreign leaders eligible to visit would be very small," he said.
Asked what in his judgment has compelled the Obama administration to maintain the ban originally imposed by the Bush administration, he replied, "Politics. I'm sure President Obama is trying to avoid further antagonizing the Pakistanis."