|Date: 18 Mar 2005|
Source: Hindustan Times
The US on Friday described its decision to deny a visa to Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi as a purely legal matter and not a reflection on India's political or judicial system.
This was the first time the US law under which Modi was denied the visa had been used, said State Department official Len Scensny.
"The law is relatively new. Our job is to carry out the US law," Scensny said.
Asked if the decision had been made at the highest level by Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice, Scensny said: "It's not the secretary's job to make this decision, but she's aware of it.
"We sent out the instructions to our Delhi office last night and told Modi's people this morning."
The US on Friday denied a diplomatic visa to Modi and revoked his existing business visa, a day before he was to set off on a five-day visit to the US at the invitation of Indian American hoteliers.
Washington cited Modi's role in the 2002 sectarian violence in Gujarat for its decision.
Modi was to travel to the US to be the keynote speaker at the annual convention of the American Association of Hotel Owners Association in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.
The US law used to deny Modi a visa has been in existence for several years. But before December 2004, it applied to religious rights violations committed in the two-year period prior to a person's applying for a visa.
A December 2004 revision removed the two-year provision and it now applies to anyone that had anything to do with severe religious persecution regardless of when that occurred.
So when Modi applied, though it was just a little over two years since the Gujarat violence occurred, he was held accountable.
"We looked at the law and the judgment we made in our own human rights report," Scensny said.
"The law says 'any foreign government official who was responsible for or directly carried out, at any time, particularly severe violations of religious freedom,' is ineligible for a visa to the United States," he said.
Modi had applied for a diplomatic visa and was denied that because he was not coming on a diplomatic visit. "But he also had a B visa in his passport, and we cancelled that as well," he said.
"This is the first time this revocation has been applied," Scensny noted.
Asked whether it was a well thought out move considering the consequences it might have, Scensny said: "I think a lot of thought went into this ... if you look at our law and at the Indian human rights commission report and our report, they say the same thing."
However, Scensny emphasised: "This is not an attempt by the US to intervene in India's justice system. This is only about (Modi's) coming into the US.
"It is not any kind of sanction, or any American commentary on the Indian system. The Indian system has been doing something about it. This is just a very narrow issue."