|Date: 18 Mar 2005|
Author: Kamil Zaheer
NEW DELHI (Reuters) - The United States has revoked the visa of Narendra Modi, the Hindu-nationalist chief minister of Gujarat, the U.S. embassy said on Friday, after he was accused of ignoring the massacre of Muslims in 2002.
The Indian government said the U.S. action was unjustified, and the chief minister himself expressed outrage.
The move comes two days after U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice visited New Delhi on a mission seen as a sign of warming bilateral ties.
The Indian Foreign Ministry called in the U.S. deputy chief of mission in New Delhi on Friday for consultations.
"This action on the part of the U.S. embassy is uncalled for and displays lack of courtesy and sensitivity towards a constitutionally elected chief minister of a state of India," the ministry said in a statement.
Human rights groups say that about 2,500 people, most of them Muslims, were hacked, burned or beaten to death in Gujarat, after 59 Hindu pilgrims and activists had died on a train in a blaze some blamed on a Muslim mob.
The Supreme Court slammed the Gujarat government, run by the main federal opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and headed by Modi, for turning a blind eye to the carnage.
A U.S. embassy spokeswoman said Modi's tourist/business visa had been revoked under a section of the Immigration and Nationality Act.
"This section 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," she said.
INDIA'S HINDU RIGHT FURIOUS
The U.S move sparked a furious response from India's powerful Hindu right, including the BJP which lost national power to a left-leaning Congress Party-led alliance in elections last May.
"The reasons that have been advanced are entirely unacceptable," BJP leader Yashwant Sinha, a former finance and foreign minister, told reporters.
Modi, known for his fiery nationalist rhetoric, lashed out at the United States.
"This decision of the American government is an insult to the Indian constitution. It is their way of casting aspersions on the sovereignty of India," Modi told a news conference in Ahmedabad, Gujarat's main city.
The chief minister, a hero to many on India's Hindu right, had been planning to visit the United States this month to meet members of the large Gujarati community settled there.
The American decision came after Muslim and liberal groups campaigned in the United States against the planned visit and petitioned the State Department to revoke his visa.
Modi has denied accusations that he deliberately did nothing to stop the slaughter of Muslims during the riots in early 2002, and said police took firm action.
But witnesses and human rights groups say police did nothing to stop Hindu mobs attacking Muslims and in some cases herded victims into the hands of their killers.
Last year, the Indian Supreme Court ordered Modi's government to reinvestigate more than 2,000 riot cases closed by the state police on the grounds that suspects could not be traced.
The U.S. State Department report on religious freedom in 2002 said police and government officials "abetted" the anti-Muslim violence in some instances during the Gujarat rioting.
(Additional reporting by Nitin Luthra)