Washington, Sept. 14: The Obama administration is open to reviewing Narendra Modi’s persona non grata status in the US. But the BJP’s prime ministerial aspirant will first have to apply for an American visa to have the ban on his entry into the US revoked.
The US state department’s deputy spokesperson, Marie Harf, said yesterday within hours of Modi’s nomination as his party’s candidate for the top office in the 2014 elections that “he is welcome to apply for a visa and await a review”.
She left the ball entirely in the Gujarat chief minister’s court by adding: “If Mr Modi would like to apply for a visa and await a review like any other applicant, he is certainly free to do so.”
Asked if “anything (had) change(d)” on Modi’s status ---- as an alien who had been denied entry into America ---- following BJP president Rajnath Singh’s recent statements on US soil asking for a change, the state department official said: “There is no change in our longstanding visa policy… as to the specific case.”
She is correct on matters governing consular issues in saying so because the US government can only review Modi’s case and possibly grant him entry if he approaches a US diplomatic mission with a fresh visa application.
As it is, Modi’s file stands closed with the revocation of his visit visa in 2005 when it was also communicated to him following an application for a diplomatic visa that it had been refused.
Indian media coverage, especially on television, often based on ill-informed premises of consular procedures, has made it appear as if Modi’s visa issue is something the state department frets over on a regular basis, reviewing whether he should be allowed into America.
On the contrary, it is clear from Harf’s answers to questions from reporters yesterday that it is not an issue that the Obama administration loses its sleep over. But that will change if Modi becomes Prime Minister next year.
The official said yesterday that “I just am not going to speculate about what the outcome of that review (of Modi’s hypothetical application) might be” and asserted the “review will be, of course, grounded in US law”.
While that may well be Washington’s position now for the record, what is likely to happen is as follows going by logic and political expediency.
If Modi becomes Prime Minister next year, it is reasonable to assume that at some point, the White House will invite him to visit Washington. The US is certainly not going to throw away everything that it has built up with successive governments in New Delhi into what is now a robust bilateral relationship simply because of past events in Gujarat which are not on American conscience, in any case, except for a few groups people for whom such incidents constitute the raison d'ętre of their public persona and professional existence.
Modi has consistently taken the position that he will not apply again for a visa, despite back channel approaches from very high political levels in America to do so, which this correspondent is aware of.
His party has also treated the matter as one of prestige and taken the view that the chief minister is not an applicant to visit America and, therefore, his visa is a non-issue.
When Rajnath was in the US recently, he initially botched the issue by raising it in public but was quickly rapped on the knuckles from back home for doing so. Singh quickly fell in line with the party’s longstanding policy on this issue.
However, once an invitation is issued to Modi by a US President, he need no longer stand on prestige but can apply for a diplomatic visa on the ground that he has been invited for an official visit.
Although the deputy spokesperson feigned moral outrage yesterday at suggestions that America “always engages itself with Opposition parties and leaders of other countries”, the fact is that Washington’s foreign policy has been historically ruled by expediency and pragmatism over ideals and principles.
A small, but highly respected, number of commentators here pointed out on Wednesday that the day was the 40th anniversary of what they called the “other September 11” when the US masterminded the overthrow of Chile’s elected President, Salvador Allende.
Successive American Presidents were then in bed for several decades with one of the most hated dictators and human rights abusers in modern history, Augusto Pinochet. There are many other similar examples in history.
In any case, an American visa, even a limited one, is taken for granted for Modi --- if he becomes Prime Minister ---- to visit New York for the UN General Assembly.
The US has no diplomatic relations with either Cuba or Iran, for instance, and the Palestine Liberation Organisation was treated as a terrorist outfit here in the 1970s. But Fidel Castro, Yasser Arafat and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad were routinely given visas to be in New York at the UN.
In the event of such a scenario, the Indian American community can be counted on to give a rousing welcome to Modi far more ostentatious than anything Castro got on a popular plane in the Big Apple.