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US denies visa to Modi, Gujarat Chief Minister
because of Modi's role in the Gujarat violence


New Delhi, March 18, 2005

The US Friday announced it was denying a visa to Narendra Modi for his alleged complicity in the state's sectarian violence three years ago, sparking a diplomatic row with India.

The move came just two days after the visit of Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and gave a new twist to bilateral relations, even as Modi hit back angrily questioning the US human rights record in Iraq.

The Congress party-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government, which has no love lost for Modi as a politician, summoned US deputy chief of mission Robert Blake and lodged a strong protest over Washington's decision, terming it "uncalled for" and seeking an urgent review.

Modi was to begin a five-day visit to New York and Florida Saturday at the invitation of the Asian-American Hotel Owners Association, whose supporters were locked in a battle in the US with rights activists had opposed the chief minister's entry.

In a strongly worded statement, the external affairs ministry said: "The action on the part of the US embassy is uncalled for and displays lack of courtesy and sensitivity towards a constitutionally elected chief minister of a state of India."

A ministry spokesman said New Delhi had voiced "its deep concern and regret" and wanted Washington to review its decision. Blake said after his meeting at the South Block, where the foreign ministry is housed, that he would convey the sentiments to Washington.

Earlier, the US embassy said Modi's tourist and business visa, issued in 1998, had been revoked and he would not get a diplomatic visa either.

Embassy spokesman David Kennedy told IANS that the decision was taken because of Modi's role in the Gujarat violence that erupted in February 2002 leaving at least 1,000 people dead, mostly Muslims.

A furious Modi hit back in Ahmedabad, saying the US had insulted the Indian constitution by denying him a visa, and urged the government to take up the matter with the US administration.

"This decision is an insult to the Indian constitution, it is an attack on Indian sovereignty," a visibly hurt Modi told reporters, underlining that the announcement came when he was all set to fly.

Modi, who was chief minister during the 2002 violence, asked rhetorically if the Indian government would have denied a visa to the US army chief over the killings in Iraq.

Embassy spokesman Kennedy said the decision was taken under the Immigration and Nationality Act "under which any foreign government official responsible for serious violation of religious freedom is ineligible for visa.

"The US law is clear that states or government officials responsible for carrying out serious violations of religious freedom are ineligible for visa."

Kennedy referred to the US Annual Country Report on international human rights practices that documented the Gujarat violence, which was widely blamed for the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led government's stunning defeat in last year's parliamentary elections.

Various rights groups had launched a campaign to keep Modi out of America, urging Washington not to grant him a visa for his alleged role in perpetrating anti-Muslim violence in the state.

Modi said: "No court in India has so far given one judgement against the Gujarat government. No one in the world...

"At a time like this, America, by taking a one-sided decision, has greatly insulted the Indian constitution and the country's self-respect.

"This is purely to put down India, to insult India.

"I request the (Indian) PM (Prime Minister Manmohan Singh) and the Indian government that they should rise above politics and should take up this issue for the sake of Indian sovereignty."

Indian political parties reacted cautiously, while the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS), the BJP's ideological mentor, strongly came to the defence of Modi.

"Who is the US to talk about human rights violations?" asked RSS spokesman Ram Madhav. "What is happening in Iraq? What is happening in Afghanistan?"

Former external affairs minister Yashwant Sinha of BJP said: "We should rise above party lines ... India has to intervene and take up the issue with the US government."

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