The US State Department Needs to Come to Terms with Modi in Power

 Kollengode S Venkataraman

Diplomats and PR peoples are paid to deftly evade answering questions, even when they know the correct, but inconvenient, answer.  So, it is astounding to read the response of State Department spokeswomen Jen Psaki’s to questions about Modi’s visa issue, when on May 12th, four days before the actual counting began,  it became imminent that Modi would be the next democratically elected prime minister of India.

Initially, Psaki ducked the question nonchalantly using her PR skills:  “As you know, we don’t talk about visa applications. We’re looking forward to working with the new Indian government when they’re elected, [and]  I’m not going to speculate on that given, obviously, the results haven’t been announced yet.”

Then Psaki clarified very inelegantly, diplomatically speaking:  “Heads of state and heads of government are eligible for A1 visa classification under the INA [Immigration and Nationality Act]. [But] No individual automatically qualifies for a US visa… … US law exempts foreign government officials, individuals – including heads of state and heads of government for certain potential inadmissibility grounds… I’m not going to get into any greater level of detail.”

Now, everyone knows that consular officials of every country have their own rules and regulations for granting/denying visas to foreign politicians. Often, these officials don’t even have to tell why they have denied the visa.  They also have enormous leeway in granting or denying visas on advice from their political bosses back home. We all understand this. 

But Ms Psaki explicitly and publicly stating that heads of states are “eligible” for getting the US A-1 visa, and further that “they [the US Consular officials] can, on the ‘grounds of inadmissibility’ deny visas to heads of state,” is astounding for its lack of diplomatic niceties. 

One wonders if Ms Psaki speaking for the State department with the security and commercial interests of US in mind, or for the vested interests within the State Department supporting the anti-Modi lobbying groups such as the National Association of Evangelicals (representing 42,000 Evangelical Churches), and the Coalition Against Genocide consisting of organizations of Christian, Muslim, and many left-leaning organizations run by Indian Expats in the US.

This kind of grandstanding is reminiscent if Imperial Colonial-Era European Powers in dealings with their colonies. But today, the US, the Sole Super Power, by the never-ending deployment of its lethal and supposedly “surgically precise” military weapons all over the world, is left with few allies willing to go with it in its martial adventures.  It stands isolated and weakened politically and diplomatically in global politics.  India, with all its faults — which country does not have its share of faults? —  is a 1.25-billion people stable democracy and a responsible nation-state in that troubled part of the world.  The US needs India as much as India needs the US. 

So, it is astonishing that career diplomats at the State Department have not come to grips with this reality. Sometime these officials appear to exude the grandeur of the Mughal and the British Empire in their waning days.

Modi is a seasoned politician having fought and succeeded in the ugly rough-and-tumble Indian electoral politics for over fifteen years. He has been elected four consecutive times in state elections in India. On many measures, and certainly not in all, he has improved the lot his people in the Indian state of Gujarat, a state as large as Italy in population.

The characteristics common to all wielders of political power – elected officials of all ideologies, monarchs, and despots — all over the world are their assuredness bordering on arrogance that comes naturally with raw power, national pride, and long memory of public snubs and humiliations.

Since 2005, the US State Department officials, at the urging of heavy anti-Modi lobbying groups — the National Association of Evangelicals, and the Coalition Against Genocide consisting of organizations of Christian, Muslim, and many left-leaning organizations run by Indian Expats in the US — have heaped repeated insults on Mr. Modi on the Visa issue.  They need to remember that Modi is a popularly elected chief executive of India with a population of nearly 1/6th of the world’s 6 billion people,  and more importantly, the only stable democratic nation-state in that part of the world.  And Modi and the Indian establishement  is only too aware of this.

So what makes US officials to think that Modi is only too eager to apply for his visa to come to the US any time soon to be photographed meeting with leaders of elected officials at the US Capitol? Or meeting with the POTUS in the Oval Office? Or for that matter, even having meeting celebrities in a State dinner on the White House lawn?   ♦

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