After the United Kingdom decided to lift its decade-long ban on Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi, the USA also expressed its desire to strengthen relationship with his state. US Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asia Robert Blake had said a few months ago that Modi was free to apply for the US visa. In 2005, the BJP leader was denied a visa to arrive in Florida on charges of violation of religious freedom, or to say more clearly, on grounds of the 2002 riots in Gujarat.
25 US lawmakers objected to granting visa to Modi
But a few days ago, 25 American lawmakers from across the political spectrum wrote to the US Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, not to grant a US visa to Modi, saying his government did not do justice with the riot victims. Some of these lawmakers are known for their long-term relations with the American Muslims, while others are hard-line conservatives, supporters of war, like those in Iraq and Afghanistan or India-baiters or liberals who just have a humanitarian view.
Modi was barred from getting an entry into the United States because of a provision of the International religious Freedom Act that was invoked by the previous President George W Bush. The current administration in Washington has not removed the bar although the Congressional Research Service or the Congress's think-tank has been impressed by the development that Gujarat has seen under Narendra Modi, who is seeking third successive mandate this month.
The US Congressmen opposing Modi's entry into the US have made a pre-emptive move. They said since Modi could be chosen as a prime ministerial candidate in India's next general polls, there is a chance that he might request an entry into the US. They have cited various sources that have accused the Narendra Modi administration of backing those who unleashed the violence in 2002.
Praise and criticism: Why the duality?
This duality in the American stand towards Modi is quite baffling. On one hand, they praise the Gujarat model of development and admit that the state is a favourable market for the American companies and on the other hand there is a 'concern for human rights' attitude. While one Congressman Keith Elison introduced Resolution 569 in March this year recognising the completion of 10 years of the Gujarat riots, Joe Walsh was another Congressman who strongly spoke in favour of Modi in May. He even said President Obama might have to learn from Modi on ways to encourage free enterprise and that Modi was fit to become the US President!
The 'idealist' concern of a section of politicians in a country, which is mostly guided by 'realist' principles, is difficult to understand. The US, revered to as the world's fittest democracy, has been found backing dictators in the past to safeguard its own strategic interests, whether economic or political.
Modi is an elected ruler, not any petty dictator
It is understood if a Robert Mugabe is banned on charges of human rights abuse for he is insignificant for American interests but Narendra Modi can not be treated likewise. For one, Modi is a democratically elected official for over a decade now and secondly, he is the best performing chief minister of a country that is considered one of its major partners by Washington in contemporary international affairs.
India is very very crucial for American interests in Asia, particularly when Washington's relations with Pakistan and China are not good and a serious power transition is waiting to unfold in Afghanistan. Finding an enemy in Narendra Modi in a changed context is not going to serve the Americans, the objection raised by the 25 lawmakers notwithstanding.
Critics actually take Modi's favour
Ten years is a long time in politics and 2002 riots could not stop Narendra Modi from making an impact as an efficient administrator. The irony is that the more the man has made himself unstoppable, the bigger the criticism for the 2002 violence has become. His political rivals have targetted him again and again over the riots for they have no other issue to defeat him.
The Indian media, which has been fooled by Modi by winning elections post-2002, also keep on reminding people about the 10-year-old tragedy hoping that it will prove its 'humanitarian' credentials at the end through a defeat of the BJP man. The problem there again is not Modi's alleged involvement in the riots but the politically naive media's simplistic understanding of the intricacies of ground politics.
The emergence and excellence of Modi should be attributed to Gujarat's socio-economic determinants and one riot that took place 10-year-ago can not just write off his good work. Successive elections in Gujarat have proved the point. If that is indeed the rule, then it is high time that the American lobbies propagating against Modi do some soul-searching. And what is even more surprising is that no judicial authority has ever convicted Modi of any wrongdoing. Is ouster of Modi at any cost all that his critics demand? Thirty-one people have been convicted for their involvement in one of the 2002 massacres this year. The viewpoint that perpetrators are not being brought to law is hence not a right evaluation by the US lobbies.
Modi's detractors, whether in India or abroad, are actually taking his favour to prove their moral righteousness. The American lobby is demanding a denial of visa to Modi even before he has asked for it. All this is futile for at the end of the day in this one-lane world, economic development is what that matters.
The Time magazine, which featured Modi in its cover in March this year, had a befitting caption: "Modi Means Business" while one article in the magazine termed Modi as a "no-nonsense" leader who can lead India out of the "Mire of chronic corruption and inefficiency". American giant Ford Motor laid the foundation of a billion-dollar unit in Sanand this year. Hence, if the man is indeed endorsed for his positive leadership, why is there a dichotomy being maintained on the issue of visa? Why doesn't the US government ban Congress leaders for they were also allegedly involved in the horrendous Sikh killings of 1984? Justice has been disrupted there as well.
The man means business, whether he is autocratic is irrelevant
Narendra Modi, as the Time magazine article said, is a man who means business. Not many are found among the current political class in India who really mean business. There has been no instances where Modi fails to impose discipline on his partymen. This, when compared to the situation in some other states of the country (like in Maharashtra, Punjab or Bengal) where hooligans with political backing misbehave with common citizens, shows that how economic good rule paves way for social stability.
If yet someone calls Modi an autocrat, I would say he is a worthy autocrat who caters to his people. It is not the first time that India is seeing a benevolent dictator. Indira Gandhi had returned to power despite hijacking India's democracy for two years sensing defeat. Modi has done well without undermining democracy so far. We must remember that personalised leadership is something Indians have always admired for the community-oriented democracy in this country makes the emergence of individual leaders difficult. The Americans must appreciate it for their own democracy is also guided by individual leaders rather than fragmented parties and communities.
The final call on allowing Modi to enter its territory rests on the US administration. But disallowing him does not reduce his credentials. He is a man who is known across the world and many countries have invited him to their land, which is not for nothing. There is no point in trying to belittle Modi by dragging him into a visa controversy. The Americans never know if they have to deal with this same man in times to come. Will they realise what serves them best?