Tharoor Tweets Opposition to New Visa Rules

By Devirupa Mitra

New Delhi, Dec 28 (IANS) Minister of State for External Affairs Shashi Tharoor has taken the debate on tightening of Indian visa rules to the Twitter, questioning whether the restriction would actually strengthen security as the "26/11 killers had no visas".

Tharoor tweeted Dec 24: "My only role is to object to them strongly. MEA (ministry of external affairs) officials are discussing them with MoHA (Ministry of Home Affairs) which imposed them."

On Nov 4, the home ministry issued a directive that foreign nationals having a long-term multi-entry Indian tourist visa must have a mandatory two-month gap between two visits.

This led to howls of protests, especially from the US and British governments who termed it arbitrary and ad-hoc.

The guidelines were introduced after it was revealed that two conspirators of the Mumbai terror attacks, David Coleman Headley and Tahawwur Rana, now in US custody, obtained long-term tourist visas and visited several Indian cities.

On Dec 24, the external affairs ministry clarified that there would be flexibility by Indian missions and immigration authorities in allowing two or three entries by foreigners subject to a detailed itinerary and supporting documents.

A day later, Tharoor further expanded on his views, pointing out that tightening visa rules will discourage "tourism and goodwill".

"Dilemma of our age: tough visa restrictions in hope of btr (better) security or openness & (and) liberality to encourage tourism & goodwill? I prefer latter," he said on twitter from Udaipur while on holiday.

Immediately, there was a stream of opinions from several of his 530,000-plus followers.

'Zookybeans' responded angrily, "Go tell UK, USA to reduce paperwork for visas or return the compliment in the true spirit. Why r u so bothered abt (about) visitors?"

A more amenable 'rudrojit' accepted Tharoor's suggestion.

"Agree completely. Restrictive visa regulations can only hurt the image of our country and business," he said.

Tharoor, however, was not done yet.

On Dec 26 he said: "Issue is not security vs (versus) tourism, but whether visa restrictions protect our security. 26/11 killers had no visas."

He said that making it more difficult for visitors to return frequently or stay longer will only "cost us millions of $ (dollars) and alienates (sic)".

"Is all that worth it just in hope of making it difficult for a future Headley to recce (reconnaissance)? R (Are) we going 2 (to) allow terrorists 2 (to) make us less welcoming?" he asked, rhetorically.

Admitting that there was "no easy answers" to these questions, the minister asserted that "security must not become an excuse 2 (to) change our cntry (country) 4d (for the) worse".

He pointed out that visa arrangements were reciprocal.

"The more restrictive we become, the tougher it will be for Indians to travel freely," he said.


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