Zee Media Bureau/Ritesh K Srivastava
New Delhi: In a goodwill gesture, the United States government has for the first time since 2007 dropped all references to Prime Minister Narendra Modi with regard to the 2002 Gujarat communal riots in its annual International Religious Freedom Report.
The religious freedom report for 2013 was released by US Secretary of States John Kerry in Washington DC on Monday, two days before his India visit.
The move is being seen as a major effort by the Barack Obama administration to actively engage with the Prime Minister Narendra Modi who had been denied a visa by the US for a decade for his dubious role in the 2002 Gujarat communal riots.
The denial of visa to Modi was seen as a major point of contention between the United States and the new NDA regime ever since it came to power after its landslide victory in the 2014 Lok Sabha polls.
However, days after Modi became the Prime Minister, the pressure grew on the White House to change its position on the issue of denying visa to the BJP leader.
The latest report, however, does mention that hundreds of cases related to the burning of a railway coach and the subsequent violence in Gujarat will remain 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," the report says. Earlier reports have contained similar references.
The latest report refers to slain Congress MP Ehsaan Jafri`s widow Zakia`s consistent attempts since 2006 to register a complaint against 60 officials of the Gujarat government for their alleged role in the violence in 2002.
Jafri`s husband Ehsan Jafri was killed along with several others when a mob attacked the Gulberg Society housing complex in Ahmedabad. The reports published in 2010 and 2011 had mentioned that Zakia had been trying "to register a complaint against Modi and the 60 others for complicity in the communal violence".
This year`s report goes on to say, "After years of investigation, the SIT (special Investigation team) 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 2002 report 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 State Department had in March 2005 revoked the visa issued to Modi in view of his alleged role in the 2002 riots in Gujarat. They referred to 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. Modi`s application for a diplomatic visa was also turned down by the State Department.
US diplomats in India hardly engaged with Modi over the past decade even as several US allies courted him, particularly after his 2012 victory in the Gujarat assembly elections.
But soon after Modi led BJP to a resounding win, President Barack Obama invited him to Washington. The PM will be visiting the US in September to meet Obama and to address the UN General Assembly.