A day before Prime Minister Narendra Modi was due to arrive for a much-touted five-day visit to the United States, a federal court in New York issued a summons for him to respond to a lawsuit that accuses him of human rights abuses in connection with communal riots in 2002 that tore through Gujarat.
The summons, which requires him to respond within 21 days, is not likely to have any concrete effect on Modi’s visit, which includes high-profile events with President Barack Obama, Vice-President Joseph R Biden Jr and numerous other political and corporate leaders. An attorney acting on behalf of Modi and the government could seek to have the case dismissed, leaving a judge to decide the matter in several months.
But it is a reminder that the United States government at the time believed that Modi had acted too slowly to stop the riots and that in 2005, it took the rare step of putting him under a visa ban, which remains in place. As it became clear that Modi was likely to become prime minister, the United States has sought to set that history aside, build a relationship with him and use the change of governments to deepen both trade and defence cooperation with India.
The complaint, filed Thursday in the Southern District of New York, names two Indians as plaintiffs, one identified only as Asif and the other as Jane Doe, who, the complaint says, would not give her name out of “well-founded fear of retaliation from the state and non-state actors.” It says Modi and the state government were responsible for extrajudicial killings, “organised violence, large-scale displacement of members of the minority population, and the continuing denial of justice.”
The lawyer who filed the complaint late on Thursday afternoon, Gurpatwant Singh Pannum, said his clients had been “looking for this opportunity for a long time”.
“It will be a big setback to Modi, because he was involved in the genocidal attack on Muslims, and he got away with it,” Pannum said. “I am sure he thinks he is not going to be held accountable, but he is wrong on this one.”
©2014 The New York Times News