Rep. Joe Pitts, Republican of Pennsylvania and one of the key players behind denying Indian politician Narendra Modi a visa to the United States nine years ago, told Newsmax he is now open to issuing a visa to the man who has just been sworn in as India's new prime minister.
But Pitts, who helped craft a House resolution condemning Modi for "actions to incite religious persecution" in the Indian state where he was chief minister, also said the Obama administration should make it very clear to Modi that "our nation demands respect for human rights from nations that we consider to be allies."
Noting that Modi as prime minister "will apply under a different visa than he would have previously," Pitts told us, "it seems unlikely that the administration would deny a diplomatic visa under the current confines of the law despite the lingering questions about Modi's role in the 2002 riots."
The Keystone State lawmaker was referring to the riots in Modi's state of Gujarat that left more than 1,000 dead, most of them Muslims. A special commission named by the Indian Supreme Court never came up with evidence of Modi's involvement and he has never been charged with a crime.
Along with fellow Republican Rep. Frank Wolf of Virginia, Pitts visited the site of the riots in Gujarat.
On March 16, 2005, as Modi was preparing a trip to the United States for a conference in Florida, Wolf, Pitts, and Democratic Rep. John Conyers of Michigan helped pass House Resolution 160, which specifically condemned Modi "for his actions to incite religious persecution."
Two days later, the State Department denied Modi a visa to enter the country.
Asked about the visa denial by The Washington Post on Wednesday, a top official of Modi's BJP (conservative) party said under a promise of anonymity: "He is not vindictive, but he will not forget, either."
Pitts said: "The granting of a visa to Modi should be interpreted to be a routine diplomatic task, not a change in policy."
The Obama administration, he added, should "make clear the U.S. position on human rights by elevating religious freedom and human rights to be included in the United States-India Strategic Dialogue, which I have called for in a bipartisan resolution.
"BJP needs to demonstrate that it has broken free of its past record of tolerating and in some cases fomenting discrimination against religious minorities in India.
"Narendra Modi's human rights record is a symptom of a larger problem, but this is a chance for BJP to demonstrate that it believes in equal dignity and equal rights for all people, regardless of race, religion, caste, wealth, or gender."
Indian business leaders in the United States also spoke to Newsmax about the likely change in policy regarding a visa for the new Indian prime minister.
"Mr. Modi's alleged negligence in the Gujarat riots and the subsequent U.S. visa ban has not dimmed his allure as a charismatic and iron-willed politician who is pro-growth and anti-corruption," Anupam Govil, president of Avasense, a software company, told us. "He has not been completely absolved of his role in the Gujarat riots, but in India, where over 25 percent of the elected officials have pending criminal cases, this is not seen as a negative.
"His decisiveness and role in Gujarat's rise to the top are seen as a far more desirable trait, and that, coupled with total disenchantment with the ruling Congress [Party], ensured his landslide victory. The U.S. visa ban will be automatically lifted as head of state. However, it's the temperature of the relationship that will take time to warm up."
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