No sooner had the conservative BJP Party secured an absolute majority in India's parliamentary elections last week than the controversy over Prime Minister-elect Narendra Modi acquiring a visa to visit the United States resurfaced.
Following President Barack Obama's congratulatory call to Modi and accompanying invitation to come to Washington, D.C., several U.S. human rights groups brought up the incident that led the State Department to deny him a visa in 2005: the 2002 killings by rioters and police of more than 1,000 Muslims in the Indian state of Gujarat, where Modi has long been chief minister.
The State Department on Monday appeared to suggest that Modi's past visa problems may be behind him.
"Heads of government and heads of state are eligible for an A-1 visa and must travel to the United States on an A-1 visa, regardless of the purpose of the trip," State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki told reporters. "As prime minister of India, obviously Modi would be a head of state, and you saw the announcement from the White House this weekend, after the president's call, that they have invited him and would welcome him to the United States."
Pressed about whether Modi has been on a "U.S. visa blacklist" for the past 13 years, Psaki simply replied: "Again, as a head of state, he would be applying on an A-1 visa, so I don't have any other details for visas for you."
The visa issue has long been a sore issue for the man who is about to become prime minister of India. In early 2005, the Asian American Hotel Owners Association announced it was sponsoring a conference in South Florida and had invited then-Gov. Jeb Bush of Florida; TV pundit and author Chris Matthews; and Modi.
Following widespread letters of protest, Matthews withdrew from the conference for "scheduling reasons," and Amnesty International urged American Express to withdraw its sponsorship of the conference.
The U.S. House of Representatives then passed a resolution condemning Modi "for his actions to incite religious persecution." Two days later, the State Department formally denied Modi a visa.
Modi denounced the visa denial as "an attack on Indian sovereignty," and as The New York Times reported, he raised the question, "Will India also consider what America has done in Iraq when it processes visa applications of Americans coming to India?"
Several Indian-American businessmen responded by telling Newsmax that Modi has long been cleared of any responsibility for the killings in Gujarat, and as the new head of government, should be given a visa to come to the United States.
At a meeting of the Outsourcing Institute in New York City, several Indian-American business leaders left little doubt they were on Modi's team and wanted the visa controversy ended.
"The courts looked into [the Gujarat shootings], and Mr. Modi was fully exonerated in India," said Vishwanath Ganti, East Coast head of New Business Development for Polaris Software Lab India Ltd. "This is not an issue for the Indian voters, who have made Mr. Modi prime minister, but for the human rights activists in the United States."
Kedarnath Udiyavar, chief client officer for Polaris in its Hyderabad, India, headquarters, agreed.
"We should not be dwelling on this but looking ahead at what Mr. Modi can do. He is known to be good for the business community, and the economy will do well with him as prime minister."
John Gizzi is chief political columnist and White House correspondent for Newsmax.
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