One of the reasons for the resignation of Nancy Powell as the American ambassador to India is said to be that she did not take proactive steps in the recent past for moving towards revoking the cancellation of the visa. The cancellation had happened in 2005, and Powell was nowhere in the picture at the time. However, since then, until very recently, in every statement made by American officials, other than Powell, in India and in Washington, the standard line was that Narendra Modi was free to apply and the application would be processed in normal course. There was no hint that there was a rethinking about the original reason for the revocation. The media spin that the visa would not be given was not contested.
There is no way to know whether Powell had recommended that the revocation of the visa should be continued, or otherwise. However, the boycott of official meeting with Modi had been ‘lifted’ only recently. Even then, there was no noise that the visa application would be favourably considered.
To really understand the whole issue in the right perspective, it is necessary to trace the whole process by which the 2005 decision was taken. Clearly such a step could not be taken on the basis of a whim, but would have to be backed with supposedly solid data to prove an allegation of wrong doings on part of Modi. In this particular case, Modi was charged with not just doing nothing to stop the post-Godhra riots in 2002, but actually encouraging them. These riots were described as pogrom, acts against humanity, etc. It was also alleged that anywhere between 2000 to 5000 Muslims were killed (the term applied was “butchered”), hundreds of women raped, fetuses ripped from the wombs of pregnant women, and many other horrible things.
The evidence for the mayhem was not based on an investigation by the appropriate authorities in the country, and submitted to the courts in India. It was based on statements by various organisations outside the legal system. They went under various rubrics – human rights, civil society, concerned citizens, etc. Nor was the ‘evidence’ submitted to the courts which heard the matter within the legal framework, and passed a judgment of guilty against Modi when the decision to revoke the visa was taken.
Just four months ago, the New York Times website had an article titled “U.S. Evangelicals, Indian Expats Teamed Up to Push Through Modi Visa Ban” by Zahir Janmohamed. It is available at:
The very first paragraph of the article says: “In March 2005, the United States denied a visa to Gujarat’s chief minister, Narendra Modi, now the Bharatiya Janata Party’s prime ministerial candidate in next year’s Indian elections. The visa was denied because of Mr. Modi’s alleged role in the 2002 riots in Gujarat that left more than 1,000 dead, most of them Muslims. But it came about from a highly unusual coalition made up of Indian-born activists, evangelical Christians, Jewish leaders and Republican members of Congress concerned about religious freedom around the globe.”
As far as his role is concerned, in the very next paragraph, Janmohammed says: “I had a front-row seat to these events as they unfolded. I worked in Washington. D.C., from 2003 to 2011, mostly at Amnesty International and in the United States Congress, and I was a part of the campaign to deny Mr. Modi a visa.”
In the meantime, the Indian legal process was moving forward to investigate whether Modi was guilty or not. And the result was that the charges against Modi had no basis. Recently, MJ Akbar, who had compared Modi to Hitler and had said that Pakistan should award their highest civilian award to Modi, joined the BJP. In explaining why he changed his mind, he wrote:
I raised questions at the time of the riots as much as any other journalist did. Paradoxically, these questions were answered over ten years by the UPA government. There has never been, since independence, such intense scrutiny, or such absolute determination to trace guilt to a Chief Minister, as Modi faced from institutions loyal to the UPA government over two full terms. Every relevant instrument of state was assigned the task of finding something, anything that could trace guilt to Modi. They could not. The Supreme Court, which is above politics and parties, and which is our invaluable, independent guardian of the law and Constitution, undertook its own enquiries. Its first findings are in, and we know that the answer is exoneration. Moreover, there has been judicial accountability to an unprecedented degree in Gujarat.
Given the noises that are recently emanating from Washington, perhaps one can conclude that the USA has realized that the revocation of the visa in 2005 was a mistake. And given the rise of Modi to occupy the position of the prime minister in India, perhaps they think that it was a blunder. How to retract from a situation that the American government has placed itself in? Will it be enough if the USA government conveys, through a back channel, to Modi that if he applies for a visa, it will be immediately given? I will argue that more needs to be done, so that such blunders are not committed in the future.
It is clear that the USA government relied on non-state actors to determine the guilt of Modi, and that the USA was seriously misled. The point then becomes who did the misleading and, more importantly, whether it was deliberate or not. A clear answer to these questions will ensure that in the future blunders do not happen.
The USA should identify these interlocutors, and ask itself what was the agenda of the groups that did the misleading. Janmohammed has identified them, and given the nature of the groups, their agendas are clear. Additionally, these interlocutors had their own interlocutors based on the Indian soil, which fed them the supposed evidence establishing Modi’s guilt. And their agendas are also not secret. It would not be at all difficult to identify them.
What is important to realise is that these interlocutors are relied on by the governments of many countries, and not just the USA, to inform them about the situation in India on many aspects and not just relating to Modi and diplomacy. Clearly, one should ask if the misleading that has happened in the case of Modi was not also prevalent in these other cases too. And any investigation by the USA should start on the basis that these groups are guilty, and that their innocence has to be proved. This is not a question of a judicial inquiry, but one of a necessity to ensure that the flow of information in future is not just correct, but untainted by agenda or ideology.
There are a lot of people who seem to get some sort of perverse pleasure in misleading others. The worse part of it is that those getting misled are actually paying these people in quite a handsome manner. These people have to be kept out of the loop completely in the future, so that policy decisions are taken on information that is robust.
The identification, and weeding out, of these people will also help India and other countries in the world. There is a very high degree of probability that these people will also be indulging in their games in many places and situations.
The USA has an opportunity to base its future relations with India on a better footing than the past. It is accepted that each country has its own interests, and it is expected that each country will protect them as fiercely as possible. However, what is at issue is not a question of give and take (implying compromises) but correct facts and analysis, implying a win-win situation.
The author is a businessman from Goa. The views expressed by the author are personal.