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By Fareed Zakaria
The United States has to clear the air with the person who will be India's next prime minister, Narendra Modi. Modi has been shunned by U.S. officials for a decade. The George W. Bush administration had put him on a blacklist of sorts and denied him a visa to come to America. The visa issue is now irrelevant because as the head of government, Modi automatically gets a special visa. But the Obama administration should go further and move to strengthen ties with him. The cold shoulder should be replaced with a warm embrace.
First, a few words to explain the blacklist and why, in my view, putting Modi on it was selective, arbitrary, and excessive.
Modi, a Hindu nationalist politician, is (until he becomes prime minister) head of the government in the Indian state of Gujarat. He held that job in 2002, when fierce rioting between Hindus and Muslim broke out.In that capacity, it is alleged, he encouraged – or did nothing to stop – vigilante violence against Muslims and police complicity with this violence.
In those riots 1,000 people, almost all Muslims died. Subsequent prosecutions of those accused of killing Muslims have been minimal.It is a dark episode in India's history and Modi comes out of it tainted as the head of the state government at the time. But his own role remains unclear…
…Here's the part that bothers me: Modi is the only individual ever to have been denied a visa for violating religious freedom, which makes the Bush administration's decision look utterly arbitrary…
The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, the very body that had singled out Modi, lists countries "of particular concern" for their oppression of religious minorities – Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Iraq.
Not a single government official from any of these countries has ever been placed on a blacklist or denied a visa.
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