The report on international religious freedom brought out by the US Department of State this year does not have any reference to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, unlike all but one of the previous years since the 2002 communal flare-up in Gujarat.
The International Religious Freedom Report for 2013 was released by the US Secretary of State John Kerry in Washington DC on Monday, just two days ahead of his arrival here to launch the first major diplomatic engagement between the two countries after the change of regime in India.
The report does not have any reference to Modi, who, as chief minister of Gujarat, was repeatedly mentioned about in almost all the previous editions – except the one in 2007 – of the US Department of State’s annual publication, ever since his alleged role as the state’s chief minister during the 2002 riot triggered a controversy.
The latest report, however, like the previous ones, mentions that hundreds of legal cases in connection with the February 27, 2002, incident of burning of a train in Godhra and subsequent communal violence in other parts of Gujarat remained pending.
“Muslims were accused of setting fire to the train (in Godhra), killing 58 people, while in the anti-Muslim violence that followed, 790 Muslims and 254 Hindus were killed,” it mentions. Similar references were made in the earlier reports too.
The 2013 report refers to Zakia Jafri’s persistent attempts since 2006 to register a complaint against 60 officials of the Gujarat government for their alleged role in the violence in 2002, albeit without mentioning about her legal campaign against Modi.
Jafri’s husband Ehsan Jafri was killed along with at least 68 others, when a riotous mob attacked the Gulberg Society at Chamanpur in Ahmedabad on February 28, 2002.
The US State Department’s reports routinely mentioned about Zakia Jafri’s efforts since 2008. The reports published in 2010 and 2011 had specifically mentioned that she had been trying “to register a complaint against Modi and the 60 others for complicity in the communal violence”.
“After years of investigation, the SIT decided in 2012 not to pursue any charges. In December (2013), a magistrate court rejected a protest petition filed by Jafri and upheld the SIT decision. Jafri said she intended to appeal to a higher court,” the latest report covering the entire year of 2013 mentions.
The 2002 report quoted “human rights activists” asserting that “Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi personally told Ahmedabad police” on February 27 that year “to allow Hindus two days to react peacefully to the Godhra incident.” It also referred to the National Human Right Commission’s June 1, 2002, report holding the “Gujarat government responsible for the riots” and accusing it of “a complicity that was tacit if not explicit”.
The US State Department in March 2005 revoked the tourist/business visa issued to Modi, in view of his alleged role in the 2002 riots in Gujarat.
Washington cited sections 212 (a) (2) (g) of the US Immigration and Nationality Act, which makes any foreign government official, who “was responsible for or directly carried out, at any time, particularly severe violations of religious freedom” ineligible for a visa to the US. Modi’s application for a diplomatic visa was also turned down by the US State Department around the same time.
The US, however, initiated a sharp U-turn in its approach to Modi, after the BJP declared him its prime ministerial candidate. US President Barak Obama called Modi and invited him to Washington soon after the latter led the BJP to victory in the polls.