New Delhi, Rohan Venkataramakrishnan (scroll): Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s relationship with the United States is a complex thing. He has been very cooperative with the Americans from the time he took charge last May, visiting the country and inviting US President Barack Obama to be the chief guest at this year’s Republic Day. Yet the history of being banned from the country in connection with the 2002 riots remains an undercurrent.
The news on Thursday that an American court had dismissed a case against Modi that had been filled because of the riots came as a relief to some of his supporters. A few took to Twitter to announce that Modi had been given a “clean chit” from an American court, just as he had received a similar blank document from the Indian supreme court two years ago. But the reality, in both those cases, is a little more complex than simply a matter of clean chits.
Last year, in September, human rights group American Justice Centre filed a lawsuit against Modi in a US court. The suit alleged that Modi had not done enough to prevent or control riots in Gujarat when he was chief minister in 2002, leading to the deaths of more than 1,000 people, most of whom were Muslim. This of course was the same reason that the US had, since 2005, barred Modi from stepping on American soil under a provision of their law that denies a diplomatic visa to any foreign leader who carried out severe violations of religious freedom.
The case in the American court was filed just in time for Modi’s visit to the US last year, when it made headlines internationally. Officials from both the countries at the time, however, dismissed it as being nothing more than a distraction. Nevertheless, the court still issued a pro forma summons to Modi and later called on the US state department to explain why prosecution against Modi should not go forward.
The court has now decided that it can’t hear the case against Modi at all. But this is not because of either the Indian Supreme Court’s apparent “clean chit” to the prime minister in December 2013, nor is it because the court examined the evidence on hand against Modi with regards to allegations of “crimes against humanity, extrajudicial killings, torture and for monetary damages against Muslims in India”.
Instead, the court said that the process couldn’t be applied against Modi simply because he was the head of a state and thereby enjoyed diplomatic immunity. The American Justice Centre had argued that Modi doesn’t deserve to be given immunity because the alleged human rights violations took place before he was the head of state, but the court dismissed these arguments, saying “they have no merit”.
“Accordingly, in light of the determination by the Executive Branch that Prime Minister Modi is entitled to immunity as the sitting head of a foreign government, he is immune from the jurisdiction of this Court in this suit,” the court said. “The complaint is dismissed.”