It has been almost a decade since the United States revoked Narendra Modi’s visa and imposed a ban on his traveling to the United States. The United States’ ban on Modi is based on its domestic law on the issues of “severe violations of religious freedom,” and the US State Department has repeatedly clarified that, “individuals have to apply for visa and their applications are reviewed in accordance with US law and policy.” Modi has wisely avoided discussing this topic for years, but his nomination as a prime ministerial candidate and US Ambassador Nancy Powell’s recent visit to Modi’s office has brought the issue to the media within India. Modi’s travel ban may not be an important issue in the United States, but Modi’s political opponents in India, who celebrate his inability to personally meet his fellow Guajaratis and other Indians living in the United States, use this to goad Modi’s supporters.
The US State Department again reasserted that nothing has changed for Modi, “there has been no change to our visa policy” and “he is welcome to apply for a visa and await a review like any other applicants.” For Modi’s supporters in India, these statements are interpreted as insulting. It is important for Modi’s opponents and supporters to understand that these statements do not necessarily reflect on Modi. All governments require an individual to apply for a visa in order to visit that country. In some cases there are instances of visa free travel agreements but these agreements mainly exist in Western Europe and in some parts of the Americas. But the United States will need to revisit his travel ban should he actually become India’s next prime minister.
The US government revoked Modi’s visa on the grounds that he was responsible for “violating religious freedom.” Soon after that, the European Union and many other countries followed suit. The British government ended the boycott in 2012 and many countries followed the trend immediately. Following his victory in the state of Gujarat in December 2012, the European Union ended Modi’s boycott and diplomats from countries like France, Germany, and Australia visited him in the capital of Gujarat.
Finally, the US government has scheduled a high level diplomatic meeting with Modi in early February 2014, just a few months before the general election in India. Ambassador Nancy Powell’s recent meeting with Modi in Gandhinagar, the capital of Gujarat, was a significant step by the US government in order to thaw the standoff between Modi and the US which might not bear fruit immediately. “We can confirm the appointment (between Modi and Powell),” a US State Department spokesperson said of the meeting. “This is part of our concerted outreach to senior political and business leaders which began in November to highlight the US-India relationship.”
However, the question must be asked: will removing the travel ban be an endorsement of his past sins? If Modi becomes the next prime minister of India, not allowing him to visit in his capacity as India’s prime minister could strain U.S.-India relations beyond repair.