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July 07, 2005

India's reaction to a U.S. visa denial

NarendraModi-HindustanTimes.jpgA prominent Indian minister was recently denied a US visa on grounds that he violated religious freedom.

The official, Narendra Modi, heads India’s western state of Gujarat, a hub of Hindu-Muslim tension. In 2002 rioters in the state killed more than 1,000 Muslims. The carnage was in retaliation for the torching of a train car carrying Hindu radicals, killing nearly 60 (see this BBC analysis).

Some human rights groups accused Modi of complicity in the anti-Muslim violence.

While Modi, a fringe figure of the Hindu right, is little loved by most Indians, the snub wasn’t received well. Local newspapers ran the visa denial story front page with banner headlines. A current affairs list-serve for Indo-Americans scored more than 100 messages on the incident both angry and adulating. One careless poster called for a renewal of anti-Muslim riots.

The ruling Congress party, arch rival to Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party, protested the decision, while some leading editorialists, better accustomed to demanding Modi’s scalp, pinched their noses and called it unjustified and “simply bad”.

For his part Modi, who was popularly elected, told a news conference that the denial was "an attack on Indian sovereignty."

"Will India also consider what America has done in Iraq when it processes visa applications of Americans coming to India?" he asked.

The snub did one good thing and two bad things. For the good, it condemned religious bigotry and burnished the US record toward Muslims.

But, it also gave Mr. Modi a chance to grandstand.

And most importantly, it hurt nationalist sentiment. The aspiration for global belonging has emerged in the last decade as a dominant force in India, a nuclear power with more degree-holders than the population of France and more English speakers than the US and UK combined.

India is also one of only a handful of countries which still view the US favorably, according to a new Pew Global Attitudes Poll. Even a minor slight from Uncle Sam is received here like a punch in the stomach.

[Photo from the Hindustan Times]

Posted July 7, 2005 09:08 AM

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