| Modi at a news conference in Ahmedabad on Friday. (Reuters)
March 18: A month-long campaign by Muslim and Christian organisations in the US against Narendra Modi's visit forms the backdrop to today's decision by the Bush administration to deny the Gujarat chief minister a visa.
The Council on American-Islamic Relations has spearheaded sustained lobbying of the US government and Congress members to prevent Modi from visiting the country to attend a conference of hotel owners of India origin, most of whom are Gujaratis.
Separately, but adding substantial religious-political muscle, the Federation of Indian-American Christian Organisations of North America has been running an anti-Modi campaign.
The Council wrote extensively to administration officials and members of Congress, citing that Section 604 of the International Religious Freedom Act makes any foreign official who has engaged in 'particularly severe violations of religious freedom' inadmissible to the US.
The Federation's criticism of the BJP goes back further, to the time when Christian missionaries became victims of violence in Gujarat. The edge of its criticism sharpened after the 2002 riots.
It organised hearings on Capitol Hill, the seat of power in Washington, on the violence against the minority community in Gujarat following the Godhra train burning and won support from mainline Christian organisations that have become more powerful in George W. Bush's second term, having played a large role in his re-election.
Campaigners against Modi cited various US reports, including some prepared by arms of the administration, to point out the chief minister's alleged guilt in failing to stanch the wave of violence, in which over 1,000 ' unofficial estimates say 2,000 ' people were killed.
The US Commission on International Religious Freedom prepared a series of reports on Gujarat. At a hearing held at its initiative, many representatives from India testified. One of them was Teesta Setelvad, whose organisation Communalism Combat has been working among riot victims. The daughter and son-in-law of Ehsan Jafri, who was burnt to death during the riots, had also testified.
Some members of Congress, however, needed persuasion to oppose Modi's visit. One such was Congressman Joe Pitts, a Republican, who visited Gujarat some time after the riots and visited the home of Jafri.
In an exclusive interview to STAR News, Pitts said that Modi is 'an example of an official promoting extremism and violation of human rights and religious liberties'.
With 21 other members of Congress, Pitts wrote to secretary of state Condoleezza Rice, urging her to 'deny Modi access to their country'.
'During my visit to India, Muslims, Buddhists, Dalits and tribals indicated that the BJP government officials and police supported these activities (riots),' Pitts said in the interview.