Assam editor dropped from PM trip, MEA pleads helplessness (Lead)

September 22nd, 2008 - 6:07 pm ICT by IANS  

New Delhi/Guwahati, Sep 22 (IANS) The editor of an Assamese daily who was dropped from Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s trip to the US and France because he couldn’t get a US visa blames the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) and says the treatment meted out to him forced him to feel he was a minority. However, a ministry official said granting visas was the “sovereign right” of a country and there was little it could do.Haider Hussain, editor of Assam’s largest circulated Asomiya Pratidin, was invited by the MEA to be part of the prime minister’s 35-member media delegation for his 10-day visit. He was the lone member from India’s northeast.

But while the prime minister and the rest of his delegation left Monday afternoon, Hussain stayed back since he did not get a visa from the US embassy.

The aggrieved editor has blamed the MEA of religious bias rather than the US embassy for delay in issuing him the visa that would have enabled him to travel with the prime minister.

“I am a victim of being a Muslim and blame the ministry of external affairs for the goof-up rather than holding the US embassy in New Delhi responsible,” Hussain told IANS.

“I reached New Delhi as advised and visited the US embassy for my visa. I was shocked to find the inordinate delay in processing my visa application at a time when other colleagues took just 30 minutes or so for doing their formalities,” Hussain added.

“Although no official reason was cited to me for non clearance of the visa, I was told by an MEA official that US embassy takes time to issue visas to Muslim applicants.”

Accusing the Indian government for failing to get his visa cleared despite being formally invited to be part of the prime minister’s entourage, Hussain said he was hurt at the discriminatory attitude meted out to him by MEA officials who failed to take any initiative in helping him get the visa.

He has already written letters to the prime minister and the MEA to lodge his protest over the incident.

“Never ever did I think for a moment that I am a Muslim and a minority, but this incident has forced me to change my perception,” a dejected Hussain said after he flew back to Guwahati Sunday.

Though the MEA has not yet reacted to the allegation officially, sources in South Block said: “It is the sovereign right of a country whether or not they want to grant a visa to someone.”

South Block sources pointed out that officials of the ministry who are involved in prime ministerial or other high-profile visits only act as a “facilitator” for visas and other requirements.

“The MEA can only forward names of the persons who are part of the prime ministerial delegation. We can’t force any country to issue a visa. It is their sovereign right,” an official in South Block said.

In the past, there have been occasions - mainly while travelling to Pakistan - when Indian journalists have been denied visas. But even Islamabad has rarely denied visas to members of the prime ministerial media delegation.

It is almost a practice in the MEA to ensure that every member of the media delegation gets a visa from the countries that the prime minister is scheduled to visit.

It is not clear yet whether officials in the ministry had taken up the issue of granting a visa to Hussain with the US embassy in earnest.

“Since most of the senior officials involved in the process are travelling with the prime minister it will be difficult for us to know exactly what went wrong in Hussain’s case,” sources said.

Hussain had earlier travelled abroad with former prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s media entourage.

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