By B. Raman
There are no saints in matters relating to visas. And there are no heroes either.
We should avoid an immature and juvenile song and dance over the refusal of a visa by the Pakistani High Commission in New Delhi to Shri Praveen Swami, who heads the Delhi office of “The Hindu”, to enable him to accompany Shri S. M. Krishna, our Foreign Minister, during his just concluded visit to Pakistan.
Travel visa is not a fundamental or human right. Countries have a right to refuse visas to individuals and they don’t have to give reasons for their refusal. Visas are often refused by all countries of the world on unadmitted political or national security grounds.
After we carried out our nuclear tests in 1998, our retired nuclear scientists wanting to travel to the US found it impossible to get a US visa. A retired Chairman of our Atomic Energy Commission found that the US Embassy in New Delhi, without saying no, sat over his application for a visa to attend a non-governmental conference in the US. He took the hint and withdrew his application.
Another retired nuclear scientist could not get a visa from the US Embassy in New Delhi because he had once visited Iran after retirement.
We are not trail-blazers in this matter. We can be as over-restrictive as any other country in the consideration of visa applications from journalists and academics. We have not only refused visas to journalists and academics—even from the US, our strategic partner— but even harassed one or two after issuing them visas and allowing them to work from New Delhi.
A typical example is that of Alex Perry, the New Delhi correspondent of the “Time” magazine, when Shri A. B. Vajpayee was the Prime Minister. We issued him a visa to report from New Delhi, but when one of his reports was perceived to be uncharitably critical of Shri Vajpayee, the NDA Government had him harassed and humiliated through the Foreigners’ Regional Registration Office on some ground or the other.
We have refused visas to journalists and academics from the ASEAN countries because of our adverse perception of their views relating to the Pakistani sponsorship of terrorism against India.
For a journalist, refusal of visa by a foreign country is an occupational hazard. Praveen and the rest of the country should take it in our stride instead of projecting it as one more instance of Pakistani cussedness towards India.
Praveen is one of our well-known reporters on Pakistan-sponsored terrorism. There are others too who report on this subject, but they were issued visas to go with our Foreign Minister. One has an impression that the Pakistanis are unhappy with his reporting and TV interviews on Pakistani sponsorship of terrorism because they feel he is vicious in his reporting and interviews. We may not agree with this, but it is their perception.
Some ill-informed analysts have criticised the journalists, who had accompanied our Foreign Minister, for not raising the refusal of the visa to Praveen. One of the analysts has pointed out that only Ms Sheela Bhatt, the Executive Editor, Rediff, had the courage to raise it during her interactions in Islamabad.
Kudos to Sheela for her professional courage, but the fact that other journalists did not raise it does not make them professional cowards. If they feel the refusal of visa to Praveen is a matter between Pakistan and “The Hindu”, one cannot blame them. They had a job to do in reporting on the FM’s visit and their focus was on the larger dimension of their visit to Pakistan.
When the NDA Government harassed and humiliated Alex, other foreign journalists based in Delhi did not rush to his defence. There is now a slanging match between our PMO and the “Washington Post” on a negative report on Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh sent by its correspondent in New Delhi. Other foreign journalists in New Delhi are discreetly following the controversy without getting actively involved in it.
If at all foreign newspapers find it necessary to take a stand in such matters, their headquarters will do it and not individual journalists.