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America wall ahead of visa wail

New Delhi, March 19: Prodded by the Prime Minister, the US has promised to assess the appeal for a review of the denial of visa to Narendra Modi.

But American visa rules are such that they leave little room for manoeuvre, warranting extraordinary circumstances for overturning the refusal.

The Centre has given a demarche ' a formal letter from one government to another stating a position ' to the US. This means that the issue is no longer in the hands of the consular section or the embassy in Delhi but with senior officials of the state department.

In the Rajya Sabha, Manmohan Singh today said: 'The American government has been clearly informed.... We do not believe that it is appropriate to use allegations or anything less than due legal process to make a subjective judgement to question a constitutional authority in India.'

The embassy acknowledged receiving the letter. 'The request of the Government of India' has been forwarded to the state department. It is being assessed,' spokesperson David Kennedy said here today. The state department will send Delhi a formal reply.

But once a visa is formally revoked, it is difficult to overturn the decision. More than the refusal to grant the diplomatic visa ' Modi was not considered eligible because the purpose of his visit did not qualify for the category ' it is the move to revoke his tourist/business visa that has wider implications.

Earlier, if there were minor discrepancies, visa applications used to be returned without being recorded, leaving room for adjustments.

However, after 9/11 and stricter computer processings, once a visa application is formally revoked, the details are immediately recorded. This makes it watertight and, if the decision has to be overturned, persuasive arguments should be put forth to negate the earlier assessment ' which means the US will have to contradict itself.

The US has said its decision to cancel the Gujarat chief minister's tourist/business visa ' issued in 1998, four years before the post-Godhra riots, and valid till 2008 ' was based on the National Human Rights Commission's report that his administration 'failed' to control 'persistent violations of rights'.

'The fact of the matter is that it was the Indians who investigated the riots and it was the Indian government who determined that state institutions failed to act in a way that would prevent violence and would prevent religious persecution,' state department deputy spokesperson Adam Ereli said in Washington.

The NHRC report had strongly indicted the Modi government but Ereli's statement betrayed a lack of familiarity with the institution. The NHRC, though funded by the government, functions independently and its opinion cannot be equated with that of the government.

Under normal circumstances, the right to appeal is given to all US visa applicants.

Since the applicant is usually informed about the reason for rejection, a fresh application can be made with the papers required to strengthen the case. This is the stated practice, but the decision to refuse visa is rarely changed.

Besides, Modi, keen as he is to milk maximum mileage out of the issue that has put dissidence against him on hold for the time being, is unlikely to approach the US with documents that can disprove the charges levelled against him.

Having cited domestic law to argue that he was ineligible for visa, the US will also find it difficult to change its decision now. The Indian government's strong protest notwithstanding, the US has to contend with powerful lobbies both within and outside America that have worked against the Gujarat chief minister.

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