No Indian visa to US religious freedom team, is Modi afraid?

Devanik Saha
Devanik SahaMar 04, 2016 | 13:23

No Indian visa to US religious freedom team, is Modi afraid?

Just as the whole nation was being mesmerised by Kanhaiya, news came in that the Indian government has denied visas to a team from United States Commission on Religious Freedom (USCIRF), which was to visit India to assess and discuss the religious freedom conditions in India.

In a press release, the commission's chairman Robert P George, said "We are deeply disappointed by the Indian government's denial, in effect, of these visas. As a pluralistic, non-sectarian, and democratic state, and a close partner of the United States, India should have the confidence to allow our visit. USCIRF has been able to travel to many countries, including those that are among the worst offenders of religious freedom, including Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Vietnam, China, and Burma. One would expect that the Indian government would allow for more transparency than have these nations, and would welcome the opportunity to convey its views directly to USCIRF".


He further added that the SCIRF will continue to pursue a visit to India, given the ongoing reports from religious communities, civil society groups, and NGOs that the living conditions for religious freedom in India have been deteriorating since 2014.

Though it is highly unlikely that visas will be given to the commission in the near future, here are four factors which have the led to the government to do so:

1. Modi's international reputation: As is evident from his actions and foreign trips, apart from pursuing India's foreign policy goals, Prime Minister Narendra Modi's key objective is to build his international reputation and stature, to compensate for the loss made due to the 2002 riots. Though he may not admit it publicly, Modi knows that in the past one year, hate speeches by ministers of his own party and the Sangh Parivar have risen significantly, a fact that will not go unnoticed by the USCIRF.

Furthermore, the commission's report will definitely be picked up by the international media and he will be subjected to severe criticism, which will be detrimental to his new projected image of protecting religious freedom in India. He has fought against the blot of 2002 riots for long (and is still fighting), and the commission's report will definitely have an impact.


2. JNU effect: The Centre's foolishness in overreacting to the JNU incident is palpably visible. Kanhaiya's roaring speech yesterday was a glimpse of that. Students, left-liberals, writers, activists and the civil society at large have turned against the government for using their machinery to promote ultra-nationalism at the cost of polarising the nation. The pugnacious fervour to challenge the government is at its peak. Given the public's anger is rising due to the JNU incident, Modi doesn't want to give any more opportunities to the domestic media and the public to target the government.

3. Lutyens' media: The mainstream media, particularly English, has been Modi's beta noire. It doesn't leave the slightest of opportunities to target the BJP. Already, party spokespersons are firefighting the government's brazenness in the JNU issue and the overarching interest in fuelling ultra-nationalism. BJP doesn't want to give more ammunition to the media to attack them and further push them on the back foot.

4. Sangh Parivar: The commission's 2015 report highlights many instances among others - forced conversions, threats to religious minorities and instances of Muslims being lynched by Hindu nationalists. It has several references to the RSS and VHP, whose members have had direct involvement in many of these incidents.


Given the surge in such incidents over the past one year, they will again be rebuked in the commission's report and as I pointed out above, having a strong international reputation is Modi's prime objective, and he would probably have to confront Sangh Parivar's activities, which ostensibly, he wouldn't want to do, given the umbilical link between them and the BJP.

Last updated: March 04, 2016 | 19:21
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