People who showed coronavirus symptoms being taken to various hospitals from Nizamuddin area in New Delhi, Monday, March 30, 2020. The police took around 200 such people to the hospital as they participated in a religious congregation at a mosque, few days back. (PTI Photo/Ravi Choudhary) (PTI30-03-2020_000229B)
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As many as 1,750 out of 2,083 foreigners who participated in the mid-March Tablighi Jamaat congregation at Delhi’s Nizamuddin Markaz have been blacklisted and another 25,500 local Tablighis and their contacts quarantined, the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) said Monday, demonstrating the massive effort underway to contain the spike in India’s coronavirus cases.

Just last week, MHA had cancelled tourist visas of the 960 Tablighi Jamaat members who had participated in the Nizamuddin congregation. A look at their nationalities reveals that it was quite a global gathering.

Of the 250-odd Jamaat foreign activists found at the Markaz headquarters in Nizamuddin, there are 172 Indonesians, 36 Kyrgyz, 21 Bangladeshis, 12 Malaysians, seven Algerians, two Afghans, two US nationals, and one each from France, Belgium, Italy and Tunisia.

Another 247 foreign Jamaat members, who participated in the Nizamuddin congregation, have been found in Uttar Pradesh. Other states where these foreigners have been traced include Maharashtra(154), Tamil Nadu(133), Telangana(96), Haryana(86), West Bengal(70), Madhya Pradesh(59), Jharkhand(38), Andhra Pradesh(24), Uttarakhand(12), Odisha (7) and Rajasthan(5).


Also read: Tamil Nadu is worst-hit by Tablighi Jamaat event, but also seeing men admit participation


India’s visa policy to blame?

So how did so many foreign nationals gather in Nizamuddin in the heart of Delhi, and then, quickly spread across the country? How did they enter India in the first place?

Two things are slowly coming to light.

First. The tourist visas wrongfully used by several of these Jamaat members to enter the country were actually electronic-visas or e-visas.

Second. The e-visa policy was revamped in August 2019 to incorporate a meagre $25 fee for peak season travel between July-March, a $10 lean season fee between April-June, and a 5-year fee for $80. Incidentally, the ministry of external affairs (MEA) had warned its counterparts in the MHA to go slow, precisely to avoid such an eventuality.

But the Narendra Modi government had come to power with a thumping majority only a few months before, and the heady feeling had come to stay. The prime minister’s outreach to the world was substantively reinvigorated like never before. India’s unique diversity, its size and its population made it a natural leader in the region, Modi said. And now, he was its head again.


Also read: Tablighi Jamaat will have to change its ways in post-Covid world order


India’s outreach

Even in 2010 there had been a Tourist Visa on Arrival (TVOA) facility for five nations – Japan, Singapore, Finland, Luxembourg and New Zealand. In 2014, the Modi government merged TVOA with Electronic Travel Authorisation, creating the e-visa facility for 45 countries. By February 2019, the e-visa facility was expanded to 166 countries.

Foreign nationals applauded, because the new e-visa policy allowed them to stay in India for 90 days at a stretch (nationals from UK, US could stay for 180 days) and they could get their visa authorisation within 72 hours. But Indian diplomats worldwide took a deep breath.

The unwritten code in the ministry of external affairs over several decades has been to be wary of preachers and proselytisers. It’s a fine balance that diplomats maintain, allowing the practice of freedom of religion but not allowing conversions that may upset the delicate nature of a multi-cultural and multi-religious society like India.

Two sets of “tourists” have always put up the red flag in any Indian embassy abroad – Christian priests and Muslim preachers. Diplomats always have the power to summon people for personal interviews if they believe they need more information about visa applicants.

For example, if you demonstrated extreme religious views in your speech and/or in your dress – wearing shalwars above the ankle denote extreme Islamist beliefs – chances were you would be denied a visa to India. Cutting across both ideology and government, whether led by Atal Bihari Vajpayee or Manmohan Singh, diplomats followed the unwritten code of keeping messiahs out.


Also read: RSS says Tablighi Jamaat conduct not reflection on all Muslims, they’re aiding govt in fight


Modi returns the compliment

So, as Modi travelled the world after he returned as prime minister with a thumping majority – and the world returned the compliment – he made it his business to ease one of the worst headaches any potential traveller to India facces, that is, a visit to an Indian mission abroad to get a paper visa. The PM’s political direction was clear. Get the foreigner in.

Both the largely supportive Indian-origin community abroad – for whom the Overseas Citizens of India card was repackaged and even participation in elections considered – as well as foreign nationals were assiduously wooed.

The e-visa should have been the perfect instrument to allow the foreigner to experience Incredible India. Perhaps Home minister Amit Shah and his bureaucracy should have better heeded the warnings by MEA and kept a close watch on e-visa applicants, like the hundreds from the Tablighi Jamaat.

Views are personal.

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20 Comments Share Your Views

20 COMMENTS

  1. This conservative mindset is the real problem for our country. Are you suggesting or hinting that Tablighi preachers started coming to India only after launch of e-visa ? If you think so, I don’t think you are worth printing your opinion in any publication. If a man with ill intentions want to get visa he will find ways to do so, but for tourist he will skip if process is difficult or tiresome.

    Even in business, we keep all kind of restrictions and red tape before some one really interested in doing business. This discourages genuine person more than otherwise.

    • Jyoti doesnot seem to be eating from mouth, no wonder her third floor is full of all absurdities linked to each other. Stupid. Conclusions like Modi victory to e visa is a right example. But what else can be expected from a paid journalist who cares of her job first

  2. I think, the most important message she wants to highlight, is the unwritten codes of India’s Visa Policy…n it’s critical at this juncture of time when the world is facing the rise of extreme ideological based organizations-either religious or political.

  3. Jyoti, grow up!

    You yourself state – in this very article – that the eVisa decisions were taken in August 2019.

    Now, in April 2020, you are blaming Narendra Modi for allowing foreigners in during the Coronavirus Pandemic?

    Working hard to retain your job or get that promotion and pay hike is okay. But just be honest with yourself first!

    You are stringing together allegations and drawing conclusions in nationally published news articles. Now, many people will take this at face value 8nstead if really understanding the key points.

    You are being extremely irresponsible. In effect, you are miss-using your privileged position as a journalist to pander to your own needs.

    Grow up! Act like a responsible Indian Adult.

  4. If this is true ,govt needs to seriously introspect visa policy. In recent years heightened missionary activity has also been observed in tribal /slum areas

  5. 2000 visas within two months, that’s lots of money India was earning , now it will be a setback for Mea INDIA. Why India gave 2000 visas amid coronavirus and further allowed them? its not 1 or 2 people entering the country, 2000 people.

  6. But it turned out to be blessing in disguise to beat the islamists ,left liberals, tukde tukde gang with the stick of coronarvirus being spread by tableghis . Today all of you are trying defend indefensible tableghis. Their nefarious design and contempt for rule of law exposed. It will be handy to ban them in future.

  7. Oh my good lord..

    Another stellar write up, other being Norris pritam, is just mind blowing.

    Visa Policy is to make it friendly, fast and efficient.

    That doesn’t mean Mission officials should give up due diligence specifically in times when jihadis, radicals and porselytizeres are waging a perpetual war against India, Indians and Indianess.

    If this is how policy implementation is executed then mission officials are unfit for this job.

    They are the gatekeepers and first check against suspicious foreign activity in India

  8. There is no need to have an illiberal visa regime. Irrespective of how liberal the rules are troublemakers can always be kept out. All religious preachers can be subject to extra scrutiny within the rules. After all India’s liberal visa regime still does not allow science researchers, political activists without extra scrutiny.

  9. Do you think that Tablig e jamaat is the only problem . Is there a community you know whose educated and uneducated followers want to return back to a lifestyle 1000 year back and need to have a modern education and population control. And STOP beating up healthcare professionals and police officials

    • No, Tablig e jamaat is not the only problem, LIKES OF YOU ARE EVEN A BIGGER PROBLEM! YOU THE TROUBLE MAKERS BEAT UP healthcare professionals and police officials, AND THEN BLAME IT ON OTHERS.

  10. This article is in true Jyoti style. She can link finally anything to anything and finally, of course, to its root cause, that is, Narendra Modi. What if Corona issue was not an issue in March 2020? So e-visa is not to be blamed for the Markaz issue. But any violation of e-visa condition is and Home Ministry must ensure that they put in place a system by which such e-visa are not misused for unauthorized purposes. There is nothing to link Modi’s victory in 2019 to this event!

  11. So how do you propose it to be ? Legally conference visa or religious visa are a separate category.
    If people lie, its a violation, but difficult to monitor. Post-facto you can black list, or remove Muslim majority countries but then people like you will shout form the rooftops.

    In general I think, India benefits more with a liberal regime than a illiberal visa regime. It would be a mistake to stop.

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