|Date: 18 Jun 2008|
New York/New Delhi: Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi's supporters want the US to grant him a visa to enable his participation in a world Gujarati meet even though he was denied a visa three years ago because of his alleged role in condoning the anti-Muslim violence in the state 2002. But the US remained non-committal about it.
"It is not just a question of one individual getting the visa. The prestige of a state is at stake," said Sunil Nayak, president of the Association of Indian Americans of North America (AIANA), which is hosting the conference.
"Unless the US consulate gives a surety that it will grant Modi the visa, he will not apply," Nayak told IANS.
Chandru Bhambhra, president of the Friends of Overseas BJP (FOBJP) and a close confidante, said: "Modi told me some months ago that he was not going to apply for a US visa since he faces the risk of denial, which could hurt his reputation."
But if the government of a state like New Jersey invites him, then it will be a different matter, he added.
Modi was denied a visa to visit the US after he was accused of turning a blind eye to the communal violence in Gujarat in which at least 1,169 people, a majority of them Muslims, were killed.
He has since been forced to address gatherings of his supporters and the Gujarati diaspora in the US through video conferencing or live telecast.
In New Delhi, a US embassy official said the question of granting or denying him a visa would only come when he formally applies for it. In case Modi applies for a visa, allegations against him of human rights violations would also be reviewed before taking any decision, the official said.
Nayak of AIANA is hopeful that some breakthrough in the visa situation will be made in the two and a half months before the August 29-31 non-political conference.
"Modi is helping the state and its culture. His presence here will help people reconnect with their cultural roots in Gujarat. If he is not able to come in person, we will think of an alternative, which will certainly be better than mere video conferencing," he said.
Modi spoke to his supporters in the US via satellite TV in February at an event in New Jersey, organised by FOBJP, marking his Bharatiya Janata Party's victory in the Gujarat assembly elections in December 2007.
Rajesh Shukla, the coordinator of the event, had then castigated the US administration for denying the visa to an "elected leader of a big Indian state, while tinpot dictators and murderers are welcomed". It is for Gujarat and Gujaratis to decide what is good or bad for them, he said.
The second World Gujarati Conference, called Chaalo Gujarat, is a major three-day event in Edison, organised by immigrants in the US to reconnect the younger generation with their place of origin. Thirty-five thousand people from India and the Gujarati diaspora are expected to attend.
Prominent invitees other than Modi include industrialist brothers Mukesh and Anil Ambani, technocrat Sam Pitroda, religious leader Morari Bapu, economist Jagdish Bhagwati, singer Pankaj Udhas and cricketers Irfan Pathan and Parthiv Patel.
Programmes include a multi-screen film on Gujarat, a gallery on the legends of Gujarat and a 3-D exhibition of famous places in the state. Several seminars on issues including health, immigration, investments and art and literature will also be held.
Religious discourses, trade shows, fashion shows, celebrity performances, traditional dances including tribal dances and a poet's conclave will be organised as part of the event.
The first Chaalo Gujarat event was held in 2006 and drew Gujaratis from all over the world.