|Date: 18 Feb 2005|
Source: Times of India
Author: Chidanand Rajghatta
WASHINGTON: A proposed visit to the United States by Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi in March to attend a convention of Asian hoteliers has sparked off a row with some activists petitioning to the Bush administration to deny him a visa.
The decision by the Asian American Hotel Owners Association (AAHOA) to invite Modi has also divided the organization, with some members arguing that it was a bad move to invite such a controversial figure in the first place. AAHOA, which is dominated by Gujaratis, represents around 60 per cent of the budget and mid-sized hotels in the US, engendering the term "Patel Motel."
Modi is slated to be the chief guest at the 2005 AAHOA annual convention and trade show on March 24-26 in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. The Gujarat CM has accepted the invitation and is listed as the marquee speaker. Other keynote speakers at the event are the spiritual guru Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, MSNBC's Hardball host Chris Mathews and conservative commentator Dinesh D'Souza.
But an organization called The Institute on Religion and Public Policy, claiming to be a Washington-based advocacy group for religious freedom, is petitioning the State Department to deny Modi entry to the US. The group is circulating a letter among prominent individuals and rights groups asking them to oppose the Modi visit and is sending a representation to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice on Friday.
A spokesman for the group said the Modi government had indulged in "egregious violation" of religious freedoms by the state department's own account and hence he should be denied visa.
But M P Rama, AAHOA's vice-chairman, said the organization had invited Modi from a business perspective given his interest in inviting foreign investment and interest among AAHOA members in investing in Gujarat.
"When we invite a speaker we don't go by political or religious affiliation. We look at how our members might benefit. Most of our members, perhaps up to 95 per cent are Gujaratis and they would like to hear first hand from the chief minister whether the state will offer us red tape or red carpet," Rama told TNN.
However, some AAHOA members who did not want to go on record expressed reservations about the invitation to Modi. AAHOA, one member pointed out, was born out of a sense of discrimination Asian hoteliers faced in the United States. The organization should not do anything to dilute its mission statement, he said.