04/01/2014, 00.00
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For Indian Jesuit, US should not grant Narendra Modi diplomatic immunity

A report by the US Congressional Research Service (CRS) acknowledges that the Hindu nationalist leader "could return to the US" if he wins the election. Fr Cedric Prakash SJ tells AsiaNews that "Many in India are hoping that Narendra Modi never becomes prime minister." For nine years, Washington has denied him a visa for "violations of religious freedom" in connection with the 2002 Gujarat riots.

New Delhi (AsiaNews) - "The United States has not changed its position on Narendra Modi or on denying him entry to that country," said Fr Cedric Prakash.

The Jesuit clergyman, who heads the Prashant Centre for Human Rights, Justice and Peace, spoke to AsiaNews about a report issued yesterday by the US Congressional Research Service (CRS).

According to the study, the Hindu nationalist politician as the Prime Minister would enjoy diplomatic immunity.

Some see this as a change in US attitude towards the leader of the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), who has been denied a US visa for the past nine years.

The seven-page report Visa Policy: the case of Narendra Modi was prepared by the CRS - an independent and bipartisan arm of the United States Congress - at the request of several lawmakers who have been opposed to a US visa to Modi.

In a few days, India goes to the polls to elect a new parliament and a new Prime Minister, and Narendra Modi is given as a favourite.

Should he win, he will be automatically eligible for the A-1 (diplomatic) visa as head of government, regardless of the purpose of his visit.

Back in 2005, the US denied him a visa in the wake of the 2002 Gujarat riots. Because of his role in "particularly severe violations of religious freedom," he was ineligible for a visa to the United States under the International Religious Freedom Act.

He was (and still is) the chief minister of Gujarat during sectarian violence between Hindus and Muslims that left hundreds dead in 2002. For many, he bears responsibility for what happened.

For years, Fr Prakash has been active in human rights in India, especially on behalf of the victims of the Gujarat riots.

"The report," he told AsiaNews, "is just a study and is not binding. It is true that the United States has recently adopted positions considered unthinkable before, like on Iran. However, in our case, much depends on how the election goes. There are so many people abroad, even from other communities, who do not want to let Modi into the United States."

Despite an intense media campaign in his favour, "Many in India are hoping that Narendra Modi never becomes prime minister," Fr Prakash added. "We hope that this does not become reality."

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