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US House Resolution supporting visa denial to Narendra Modi may never be taken up, says NYT

By Our Representative
A former campaigner for denying visa to Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi, who worked with the Amnesty International and in the United States Congress, has said the recent bipartisan Congressional resolution (click HERE) introduced in the House of Representatives calling on the US government to continue the policy of denying him visa may not go through. In a New York Times (NYT) article, Zahir Janmohamed says,  House Resolution 417, which urges the United States government to continue to deny Modi a visa, with 28 co-sponsors, majority of whom are Democrats, “is not expected to pass, partly because India is not seen as a priority in American foreign policy at the moment.”
Janmohamed, who is introduced as “from the United States and living in Ahmedabad”, writes in the India Ink column of the top US daily’s American edition, “When I conducted research in Washington this summer, many House and Senate aides said they had no idea who Modi was. Those who did know told me they would make up their minds about Mr. Modi when next year’s elections in India are decided.” He adds, “Despite his rising profile in India, there is still little interest in Modi in Washington. This may be a harder pill for Modi to swallow: It is not that he is hated or loved in Washington; he is just not mentioned much.”
At the same time, the analyst, who claims to have access to inside information about the policy which the US government may apply on Modi if he comes to power, believes that there will be an uneasy relationship with him. Referring to a meeting with a person who was appointed to a senior position by President Barrack Obama, Janmahomed quotes the official as telling him, “I know it is a cliché, but our talking point on India has always been, ‘India and the US are both democracies that share the same values’. You cannot really apply that statement to Modi. If Modi becomes prime minister, I guess we will have to come up with something new to say.”
Headlined “U.S. Evangelicals, Indian Expats Teamed Up to Push Through Modi Visa Ban”, the article says, among the chief campaigners for denying Modi visa was also the person who sponsored the International Religious Freedom Act, Frank Wolf, a Republican from Virginia, in March 1998. The clause that proved “fateful” was Section 604: “Any alien who, while serving as a foreign official, was responsible or directly carried out, at any time during the preceding 24-month period, particularly severe violations of religious freedom, as defined in Section 3 of the International Religious Freedom Act 1998 and the spouse and children, if any, are inadmissible.”
While Wolf remains in the forefront to oppose visa to Modi, the ex-campaigner believes that the mood in the US towards Modi is changing. And for this, Janmohamed quotes Joseph Grieboski, the founder of the Institute on Religion and Public Policy in Virginia. Grieboski tells him, “When the US denied  Modi a visa in 2005, it was like the US denying a visa to the governor of Iowa — no offense to Gujarat… The US did not see it as a big deal. And back then, it seemed clear to everyone in this town that Modi was involved in the riots. Now the picture is fuzzier, and many are intrigued by Modi.”
Things have changed so much that a Indian-born retired health professional based in Berkeley, California,Raju Rajagopal,  who was among the top persons who campaigned to deny Modi a visa and was part of a group which came to Gujarat following the 2002 riots along with Indian-born Washington-based evangelical Christian named John Prabhudoss and two Republican Congressmen, is now frustrated that his efforts are not succeeding. “Despite the success in denying Modi a US visa, disillusionment quickly set in for  Rajagopal. “The frustrating thing was that the visa denial was probably the only thing really dealt a blow to Modi,” Rajagopal is quoted as saying. “I just wish it had been brought about by a large, secular coalition. I am not so sure that is true. The thing that made a difference was the right-wing evangelical support.”
No doubt, the American government’s stance on Modi remains the same, as seen in the statement two days after Modi was selected on Sept. 13, 2013 as the official prime ministerial candidate to represent the BJP. “There’s no change in our longstanding visa policy,” said Marie Harf, a State Department spokeswoman.  “He is welcome to apply for a visa and await a review like any other applicant.” Yet, the fact is, insists Janmohamed, “These days, religious freedom is no longer a foreign policy priority in Washington, and the strong evangelical Christian opposition to Modi has faded.”
“While Republicans led the opposition to Modi’s visa in 2005, there are now Republicans among Modi’s strongest supporters. When the Tea Party candidate Joe Walsh campaigned in Illinois for Congress, he promised he would push the United States to grant Modi a visa. (He lost to his Democratic challenger, Tammy Duckworth.)”, Janmohamed says, adding, “In March, three Republicans members of Congress visited Modi in Gujarat, including Cathy McMorris Rodgers of Washington state. The trip for  Rodgers and her husband cost $15,000 and was paid for by the co-founder of the National Indian American Public Policy Institute, Shalli Kumar, a supporter of Modi based in Chicago.”

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