Cablegate: Foreign Secretary Saran Requests Review of Modi Visa Decision
C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 NEW DELHI 002094
E.O. 12958: DECL: 03/17/2015
TAGS: PREL PHUM PGOV CVIS KIRF IN
SUBJECT: FOREIGN SECRETARY SARAN REQUESTS REVIEW OF MODI VISA DECISION
Classified By: DCM Robert O. Blake, Jr., for Reasons 1.4 (B, D)
1. (U) This is an action request, see paragraph 6.
2. (C) Summary: Amid extensive media coverage of the USG decision to not issue an A2 visa to Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi and to revoke his B1/B2 visa, Foreign Secretary Shyam Saran called the DCM to his office late afternoon on March 18 to express the GOI's ""grave concern"" and to request the USG to reconsider the decision. Characterizing it as ""uncalled for"" and a display of a ""lack of courtesy and sensitivity,"" in an otherwise friendly meeting Saran conveyed GOI concern that our decision had already incited a controversy and threatened to spark just the kind of divisiveness the US alleges Modi himself facilitated. Saran emphasized the GOI considers Modi a democratically-elected Chief Minister under the Indian Constitution, and that the US should take this into consideration. The DCM assured the Foreign Secretary that the USG's decision has been in accordance with US law, which he explained in some detail. Following the meeting with the DCM, the MEA issued a statement, the full text of which is in paragraph 7. End Summary.
Opinion Versus Office
3. (C) Saran argued to the DCM that the USG had made a decision based on opinion, an opinion that even some in India hold. That opinion, however, is a separate issue from the fact that Modi is a constitutionally-mandated office holder whose position derives from the people. Saran argued that the US as a democracy would appreciate this, and argued that the dignity of the office of Chief Minister cannot be overridden. Calling the USG determination that Modi had failed to act in Gujarat during the 2002 riots a ""subjective judgment,"" Saran suggested that perhaps Washington had not considered that this was a separate issue in the Indian mind.
4. (C) Appreciating the importance the USG attaches to religious freedom, Saran cautioned that this determination could have an effect opposite from that intended -- a strong emotional reaction which had the potential to polarize the Indian people. This would not be in the interest of religious harmony, or shared US and Indian objectives, he noted. Highlighting the political ramifications, Saran observed that Parliament was in session and said ""this will no doubt become a major issue,"" adding that the BJP was ""up in arms."" Saran stated that this incident might ""open up an odd type of standard to give or not give visas.""
Request for Reconsideration
5. (C) In light of the above considerations: that Modi's office is separate from the subjective judgment of his complicity, and the possibility that this decision could heighten intercommunal tensions, Saran requested the DCM to ask Washington to reconsider its decision. The DCM explained the two parts of our decision, the refusal of the A2, and the revocation of the B1/B2, highlighting that we had acted in accordance with our own law and democratic constitution. Noting the considerable popular and Congressional interest in this case, the DCM told Saran that we had taken into consideration independent reports, including that of India's own National Human Rights Commission, and that the decision was not taken capriciously, but involved many people in Washington. The DCM also noted that the most recent USG International Religious Freedom Report had characterized the overall state of religious freedom in India as improving.
6. (C) Action request: In light of Foreign Secretary Saran's request that the USG give Modi's visa application urgent reconsideration, post requests a review of the case, so we can respond back to Saran on March 19 (the day Modi was to travel.) (Post does not expect any change, but would appreciate a cable telling the GOI we took a fresh look and decided to maintain our decision.)
7. (U) The MEA issued a statement following Saran's meeting with the DCM.
The Government of India expresses its deep concern and regret that the Embassy of the United States of America denied a visa to Shri Narendra Modi, Hon. Chief Minister of Gujarat, to visit the US for an event organized by the Asian American Hotel Owners' Association.
The visa had been requested by the Ministry of External Affairs through a note verbal (sic) to the Embassy on February 28, 2005. This action on the part of the US Embassy is uncalled for and displays lack of courtesy and sensitivity towards a constitutionally elected Chief Minister of a state of India.
The Ministry of External Affairs has called the Head of Mission of the Embassy to the Ministry to lodge a strong protest against the denial of visa to Modi and to request an urgent reconsideration.