At one level it is reveals the battle lines of the coming general elections. At another, it tells us that there will be no holds barred in the campaign.
Naturally, the stakes are high for all those who will be in the contest, but they are immeasurably higher for the Bharatiya Janata Party which lost the 2004 and 2009 elections. A loss in the 2014 elections could well become a KO.
Given the focus on the 2014 elections, Narendra Modi is surely too busy to visit America anyway
The visa controversy is a bit of an oddity here. Both those who are seeking a visa for Mr Modi, and those who are opposing it, are way over the top in pursuing the issue. Given the momentum towards elections, Mr Modi is unlikely to go gallivanting to the United States in the coming months. On the other hand, if he does become prime minister, the US is unlikely to deny him a visa.
Indeed, given what the US says about the centrality of India to Asian geopolitics, the Americans are more likely to lay out the red carpet for him. This is more so because he is perceived to be an economic liberal, rather than the closet socialists that the UPA turned out to be. Even so it was unseemly for BJP president Rajnath Singh to declare at a press conference in the US that he would "appeal to the US government to clear US visa to the Gujarat CM."
Though it would be unfair to heap the entire blame on Singh. He was merely reacting to what he felt was the enormous pressure that is being put on the issue on behalf of Modi by NRI organisations, mainly of Gujaratis, who have proved to be the most fervent Modi supporters.
Equally it is not right for MPs to petition a foreign government to deny a visa to an Indian national. In any case, the right to grant or reject a visa application is jealously guarded by states as an attribute of their sovereignty.
LobbyingWhile the fact of lobbying is not unusual in the US, it is definitely inappropriate for Indian parliamentarians to participate in the process. It manifests a low self-esteem or an inferiority complex. Subsequently, many of the MPs, including Sitaram Yechury of the CPI(M) denied that they had signed the petition. And now, the forensic expert suggests that they are being somewhat economical with the truth.
When the US denied Mr Modi a diplomatic visa in 2005 on the eve of his visit to the US, the wounds of Gujarat were still fresh. The US embassy said that it acted as per a section of the US Immigration and Nationality Act, which prohibits anybody who was 'responsible for, or directly carried out, at any time, particularly severe violations of religious freedom' from entering the US. They also revoked an existing B1/B2 visa that had been granted earlier.
Now, the situation is different. Though many believe that he should accept moral responsibility for what happened in his watch as the chief minister, legally he is clear since various investigations into the Gujarat pogrom have taken place and Mr Modi has not been personally indicted in any of them.
So it was not surprising that the US reaction to the visa controversy was to say that if Mr Modi applied again, his application would be "considered to determine whether he qualifies for a visa, in accordance with US immigration law and policy".
HypocrisyOver the years, the US has welcomed many a leader who has violated religious freedom. We can think of the successive Chinese leaders who prevent the free practice of religion in China, or the many Pakistani leaders who are party to a system which marginalizes Shia Muslims, Hindus and Ahmadis.
International politics rather than law or policy will also play a key role in a future Modi visit to the US. There is certainly an element of the hyperbole in Obama's declaration that the American relationship with India is "a defining partnership of the century ahead" . But it contains more than a grain of truth.
For the US an economically and militarily strong India offers the biggest counter-weight to the inexorable rise of China. India by itself cannot offset China, but the equation looks different when it is combined with the strengths of Japan, Southeast Asia and Australia, and America's own considerable capacities.
Earlier this year, envoys of various European countries met him in New Delhi. Last year, the UK High Commissioner James Bevan to New Delhi met him in a highly publicized meeting in Gandhinagar. In 2011, the US Ambassador Timothy Roemer travelled to Gujarat, a state that had been off limits for US envoys since 2002. However he did not meet Modi at that time.
So, at the end of the day, what will matter is realpolitik: If Mr Modi and his party win the election, they will be welcomed by the US.
Mail Today July 31, 2013