Absurd to deny Modi a US visa
Four legislators stood at a podium on another unseasonably warm December day in the shadows of Capitol Hill in
Washington, DC. Somber and stern, they took
turns delivering blistering monologues into
microphones that outnumbered the stray
staffer milling about.
As America’s attention sits riveted on a lame
duck Congress that should be consumed with
the fiscal cliff, four Congressmen had time for
this — a theater of the absurd.
Absurd, because the calumny they heaped
were on a democratically elected leader thousands of miles away, Narendra Modi, over a
visa to the United States that he covets not.
Absurd, because at issue is a tragedy 10 years
passed over which dozens have been sentenced
and held accountable, but the Indian Supreme
Court’s Special Investigative Team absolved
Modi of guilt. And absurd, because in the
ostensible goal of ostracizing Modi, this act will
likely play as another attack on Gujarati
asmi-ta, or pride, and certainly did not weaken his
hand for the state elections.
It is telling that at Ground Zero in Gujarat,
Modi’s culpability in the aftermath of the
Godhra train arson is a non sequitur during
election season. Neither Sonia Gandhi nor any
Gujarat Congress party worker, even in the
heat of the campaign, ever once recalled 2002
— the issue is dormant for Gujaratis.
But just as aspirational entities as Dalitistan,
Khalistan, and Nagalim find life from time to
time in the annals of the US Congressional
Record, a mix of new and old actors in
Congress fancy themselves jury and judge in the case of
Modi, and the theater commences.
Even putting aside the terrible optics of American legislators disrespecting the free and fair democratic ballot in
India, not to mention a fiercely independent judiciary that
has convicted many — but absolved Modi thus far — for the
riotous aftermath of Godhra, it is instructive to make note
of the cast that rendered judgment.
Keith Ellison, Joe Pitts, Trent Franks and Frank Wolf are
well known ideological and religious activists vis-à-vis
India, and their history of engagement with Indian
Americans speaks to motive.
Trent Franks (Republican, Arizona) is a far-right evangelical Christian conservative that most recently made
news in joining the redoubtable Congresswoman of
Minnesota, Michelle Bachmann, and only two others in
calling for a sweeping investigation of the Muslim
Brotherhood’s insidious infiltration among American
Working along with his longtime foreign policy advisor,
Melody Divine, who serves on the board of the Dalit
Freedom Network, a Colorado evangelical church-based
group, Franks routinely provides a Congressional forum to
that group that ties caste-based discrimination directly to
Hindu scriptures and promotes conversion to Christianity
as the only solution. Despite requests from Hindu
Americans, Franks refused to sign another Congressional
letter to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton asking that
American engagement with Pakistan be predicated upon
ending ongoing persecution of Hindus, Christians, and
An ideological soul-mate to Franks, Pitts is another evangelical conservative who has made opposing not just Modi,
but the Bharatiya Janata Party, specifically, a target of several Congressional hearings.
PUNI T PARANJPE/REUTERS
BJP workers a protest against the US decision to deny a visa to Narendra Modi, near the US consulate in Mumbai, March 19, 2005
From inviting activist Teesta Setalvad — whom the same
Indian Supreme Court’s SIT reportedly condemned for
perjury by fabricating affidavits implicating Modi — to
Capitol Hill hearings and repeatedly co-sponsoring bills on
behalf of Christian Dalit leaders, Pitts also trumpeted his
hosting a film screening, India’s Hidden Slavery, that was
sponsored by Christian Solidarity Worldwide.
Perhaps Pitts faced his greatest embarrassment when his
Indian agenda focused on Gujarat, Orissa, and Dalits
began congealing with that of Dan Burton, that anti-India
stalwart (who also signed the letter against Modi), and
expanded to parroting the Pakistani view on India.
Those calls for a plebiscite in Kashmir, forming the
Congressional Forum on Kashmir, and benedictions to
erstwhile president Pervez Musharraf were the ones Pitts
likely hoped to retract when the Federal Bureau of
Investigation revealed that after Burton, Pitts was the highest recipient of largesse from the Virginia-based, convicted
Pakistani Inter Services Intelligence agent, Ghulam Nabi
Modi may be a polarizing figure in India, but what to say
about that same visa-deprived Gujarati who manages to
bring together onstage Trent Franks, whose
conservative.org rating is 100 percent, with Keith Ellison
(Democrat, Minnesota) whose rates a meager 8 percent?
Bipartisan unity — however fleeting in Washington these
days — notwithstanding, the only Muslim in Congress,
Ellison, bitterly opposed Franks’ Muslim Brotherhood
hunt. It was the hurt that Ellison tearfully conveyed that
resonated with a Hindu American Foundation delegation,
including Minnesotans, that met with him over two years.
The delegation hoped to find in Ellison a person with an
understanding of political engagement as a religious
minority. A potential ally in shared goals for a liberal soci-
ety. The encounters did not go well.