Monday, April 29, 2013

US Should Grant Modi a Visa before it is too late

Imagine the following scenario.  It is mid-year 2014, and India has just sworn in its new Prime Minister--an individual committed to achieving for India its rightful place as an international economic and political giant.  A pro-growth PM, he will likely preside over the time when India's eclipses China as the world's most populous nation; and he has made it clear that this new India will stand for the values we Americans espouse against the forces of international authoritarianism.

The US Ambassador congratulates the Indian people on their new leader, talks about the strong relationship between India and the United States, and extends a hand to the new Prime Minister.  The PM politely accepts it but with a knowing smile of contempt and wondering about my country's duplicity and whether or not we will be a true friend to this resurgent India.

Although the Indian elections are almost a year away, polls and pundits are confident that Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi will become the nation's next PM.  As of today, the US government maintains its position that Narendra Modi is disqualified from receiving a visa to visit the United States; that he was somehow involved in the 2002 Gujarat riots in which over 1000 Hindus and Muslims died.  It is an odd position for us to take sitting atop our perch halfway around the world when people close to the ground have exonerated Modi of any such charges multiple times.

Although the Indian Supreme Court has declared Modi innocent of any wrongdoing, the US State Department, politicians, and self-interested ideologues believe that they know better and dismiss the court's actions.  I'm not sure what happened to our hallowed principle that people are innocent until proven guilty, but it seems we do not apply it in Naredra Modi's case.  Last week, the Indian legal system began the process of hearing the final gasp of Modi's detractors who are demanding that the court reject its own body's final report on their say-so.  It is not certain when it will dispose of this final stab at Modi, but as soon as it happens, the United States government would be wise to announce that if Narendra Modi wants to apply for a visa he will get one; that the charges against him have not been proven despite multiple attempt; that we have listened to those who slandered Narendra Modi's good name.

It is not only an insult to Modi himself and to the millions of Indians--Hindus and Muslims--who have made him Gujarat's longest serving Chief Minister, and one of its most successful.  In maintaining our baseless visa denial, we are declaring in one fell swoop that the entire Indian legal system is without merit; that the highly respected judges on its Supreme Court do not know what they are doing.  Is this how we treat a friend and ally?

My country has made peace with some of the worst world leaders imaginable:  Joseph Stalin who the Roosevelt Administration wanted us to call "Uncle Joe," Mao Zedong who was openly proud of the tens of millions he sent to their death, Palestinian terrorists and their Holocaust-denying "President," "moderate" Taliban, and Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood.  Yet, we hold firm against a man declared innocent time and again; a man who actually stopped Gujarat's annual that have not recurred under his administration?

My country's leaders need to acknowledge truth over politics and ideology and begin the same discussions with Modi that the UK, EU, and others already have.  Yes, it will be embarrassing if we suddenly extend a hand of friendship while holding the position that the man to whom we are extending it is worse than the rogues' gallery above whom we have taken into our bosom.  Worse for everyone, however refusing to budge in the face of facts threatens the quality of that friendship and the fate of the world going forward.

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