Washington: A new US report has slammed politicians linked to India's ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) for making derogatory comments against religious minority communities, but praised Prime Minister Narendra Modi for his statement in support of religious freedom.
The US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), at whose recommendation the State Department had revoked Modi's visa in 2005 for his alleged complicity in the 2002 Gujarat riots, on Thursday described Modi's statement as a "positive development".
"This statement is notable given longstanding allegations that, as chief minister of Gujarat in 2002, Modi was complicit in anti-Muslim riots in that state," it said referring to his remarks at an event honouring Indian Catholic saints in mid-February.
Modi's visa was revoked under a provision in the Immigration and Nationality Act that makes any foreign government official who "was responsible for or directly carried out, at any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 US visa.
"Prime Minister Modi remains the only person known to have been denied a visa based on this provision," USCRIF noted.
However, saying that "incidents of religiously-motivated and communal violence reportedly have increased for three consecutive years", USCIRF its 2015 annual report has again placed India on its Tier 2 list of countries, where it has been since 2009.
USCRIF lists Tier 2 nations as those countries whose governments engages in or tolerates at least one of the elements of the systematic, ongoing, and egregious standard, but do not fully meet the countries of particular concern (CPC) standard.
The commission, which makes recommendations to the US State Secretary of State and the US Congress, has placed Pakistan and seven other countries in its CPC list.
These are defined as countries where particularly severe violations of religious freedom are tolerated or perpetrated.
"Since the election, religious minority communities have been subject to derogatory comments by politicians linked to the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party and numerous violent attacks and forced conversions by Hindu nationalist groups, such as Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh and Vishva Hindu Parishad," the report said.
Christian NGOs and leaders report that their community is particularly at risk in states that have adopted "Freedom of Religion Act(s)", commonly referred to as anti-conversion laws, it said.
"Based on these concerns, USCIRF again places India on its Tier 2 list of countries, where it has been since 2009," the report said.
(Arun Kumar can be contacted at email@example.com)