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SYMPATHY FOR THE DEVIL
- US democracy, though badly damaged, has lumbered into action

Bahuj saras, I could say as a Gujarati, in fact, I would even say fankdu thayu, meaning, respectively, 'very good' and 'what happened is fantastic'. As someone who has gone into print saying that Donald Rumsfeld should have been arrested as a war criminal the moment he landed in Delhi, and as someone who thinks that Narendra Modi and his murderous gang belong, forever, deep inside the most draconian prison in India, I feel nothing but elation when I hear that Modi has been denied a visa by the Americans. What's more, this wonderful news comes even before the waft of Condoleezza Rice's poisonous perfume has faded from our corridors of power.

Talking about smell, the whole thing throws up a complex and subtly fragrant bouquet of ironies. Despite its protests to the contrary, the Bush administration has been brazenly indifferent to the fate of Muslims all over the world. As long as their self-interest is served, Cheney, Rice, Rumsfeld & Co. don't give a rat's hindquarters whether Afghanistan goes from the taliban back to rapist warlords, whether Pakistan keeps shoving all traces of democracy into the shredder, whether Iraqi women come under the yoke of the Sharia for the first time or whether the tottering Ayatollahs get a new lease of life because of Washington's cretinous belligerence towards Iran. And, while these countries and societies may have registered faintly through their semi-opaque Ray-Bans, the plight of Gujarati Muslims certainly hasn't given anyone at Rancho Dubya even a 30-second pause as they try and put a lasso around the world. And yet, lookee here! ' a visa refusal for Narendra Mengele Modisevic!

On their part, Feldwebel Modisevic and his supporters in Gujarat, USA and Britain have been the most skimpily-dressed, manically enthusiastic cheerleaders for Team Bush, squealing in ecstacy at each bomb going into a Iraqi or Afghan house. 'Doesn't matter, kai vaandho nahi, Mussalman chhe ne' maaro!' Innocent or not, combatant or not, child or not, as long as the Muslim body-count piles up, Modi and his fascists have shown nothing but glee, proclaiming that the Americans, specifically these Americans, are their 'natural allies'. And yet, oops!, the 'natural ally' seems to have delivered a kick right in the sangh parivar's swaabhimaans.

Since coming to power, the Congress and the United Progressive Alliance government have dragged their feet over delivering justice in Gujarat. That wonderful blunt instrument of Indian statecraft, president's rule, has inexplicably been kept well away from the one place where its use is, forget justified, screamingly necessary ' Gandhinagar. Now, with hardly any compensation paid to the pogrom victims, with nary a conviction achieved against the best-documented crimes and criminals of the Gujarat massacres, the prime minister and the various ministries are tripped into proclaiming an injury to 'national pride'. Why' Because India's most notorious human rights violator has been denied entry into a foreign country.

We, as 'a proud, sovereign nation', will welcome Donald 'Narendra' Rumsfeld with red carpets, bow low to the toxic Condi Rice, and say not a word about Abu Ghraib or Guantanamo. We will mutter inaudibly about the stalled Kyoto treaty or the Bushies' world-wide jihad on contraception, AIDS-containment and family planning, all things that impinge directly on our people's right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. But when it comes to 'an elected Indian official' being denied a visa, the government suddenly finds the moral wherewithal to stand tall, drape a tricoloured cape around its shoulders and go eyeball-to-eyeball with the Americans. Wow.

Even people who loathe Modi, people who are under no illusions about the depth and spread of the man's personal responsibility for the Gujarat massacres and the continuing aftermath, find a tripwire going off inside them, some button being pressed that says: 'I detest the man, but what right do these Americans have, to refuse one of our government officials a visa' Goes one line of reaction: 'He may be a mass-murderer but he's our mass-murderer.' To which I have to say ' 'Well...no. He may be ours, but he is a mass-murderer.' And the fact of the mass-murdering takes huge precedence over the shameful fact that Modi is 'ours'. And the fact that the current US administration is an emperor with no clothes as far as human rights are concerned is, ultimately, immaterial.

In any case, if you look at the graph of how the visa refusal came about you will see that Rancho Dubya had precious little to do with it. In time-honoured fashion, the current bunch of carpet-baggers occupying the White House would like nothing better than to fete yet another butcher as long as he was, in some sense, their butcher. In this, Modi is firmly embedded in a long tradition of 'pro-American' monsters, the Pinochets, the Shahs, the Bothas, the Marcoses, the Noriegas, the Zia-ul-Haqs, and even elected ones like the Begins and the Sharons.

The fact is, a small arm of the vast, badly-damaged contraption called the US democracy has, for once, lumbered into action, painfully and slowly pushed over three years by a whole host of people including Indian human rights organizations, retired Indian judges, Indian academics and intellectuals in American universities, Indian journalists, and, like it or not, the majority of the Indian electorate who last year rejected the sangh parivar's politics of hate along with the parivar government's other failures. As someone ranked well above the stenographers' pool in South Block told me the other day: 'I doubt the Americans would have had the guts to do this if the BJP were still in power.'

Be that as it may, the interesting thing is, it looks as if the rancid top layer of the American administration has been obliged to act by a lower stratum of political species, two Congressmen, a Republican and Democrat, a committee on religious freedom (bad mistake, Mian Modisevic, attacking those Christian Dalits) and ' hell, let's give it to them ' perhaps a visa officer or a fourth assistant to the US ambassador, a man or a woman of decency and conscience stationed at Fort George in Chanakyapuri.

Let's imagine it: 'Mr. Ambassador' says this good person, 'Sir, I have a visa application for an Indian government official, but the man's entry is embargoed by Congress.' The ambassador doesn't look up: 'Whyn't you go ahead and deal with it' I'm trying to field Secretary Rice's visit here for Chrissakes!' The Un-ugly American smiles: 'Sure thing, sir.' Boom. Let's then imagine the post-refusal scene at the MEA. High Indian Official: 'Good evening Bob, thanks for coming over, have a seat.' Bob (or Jane, or Dwight) sits down. High Indian Official (grinning from ear to ear): 'Bob, my Government requires me to issue to you a protest in the strongest possible terms as regards the refusal of a US visa to the Chief Minister of Gujarat, Shri Modi.' Bob (keeping a straight face): Uh-huh. I will pass that on to my superiors, Pran. Was there anything else' HIO: 'Yes. How much ice do you want in your whisky'

At this current high point in mid-level Indo-US cooperation, and in the ensuing spirit of buoyant optimism, let us also imagine our two characters three years hence. Pran, now stationed in our Washington embassy, is summoned in return to the state department. Bob: 'Pran, are you guys crazy' You've refused a visa to a former vice-president of the United States!' Pran: 'Well, Bob, Mr Cheney is an impeached and convicted former vice-president, and you know we in India don't like criminals, no matter what high office they once held.' Bob: 'C'mon Pran, all the old guy wants is another heart by-pass! Pran: 'Why can't he go to Houston' Bob (barely containing guffaws): 'Because they'll lynch him down there. You know Bush and this guy can't go anywhere near Texas! Anyway, Cheney can't afford a US hospital anymore.' Pran: 'Well, you tell President Eisenhower that she can send him to Iraq. Our Apollo people have set up a couple of very good, reasonably priced heart-clinics there. I recommend the one in Basra.'

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