Nancy Powell’s meeting with Narendra Modi drew mixed reactions in the United States, with some welcoming engagement with a controversial and troubling politician who could well become the next Prime Minister…
As US officials downplayed ambassador Nancy Powell’s meeting with Bharatiya Janata Party’s Prime Ministerial candidate Narendra Modi, as part of a broader political outreach, an influential daily welcomed it as a “pragmatic step”.
“This was a meeting as part of her broader and the embassy’s broader outreach to a whole host of political actors in India,” State Department spokesperson Marie Harf told reporters, “as we’ve said for several days now.” The spokesperson also repeated that the meeting did not indicate a change in US visa policy for the Gujarat Chief Minister and that the US “will work closely with whatever Government the Indian people choose in the upcoming election”. Harf said it was also “actually not true” that no American officials had previously met Modi since his visa was revoked in 2005 for his alleged complicity in the 2002 Gujarat riots. The current US consul general in Mumbai and previous CGs have met the BJP leader in the past.
Meanwhile, the New York Times editorially welcomed the Powell-Modi meeting as a “pragmatic step in engaging with India and the controversial and troubling politician who could well become the next Prime Minister after elections in May.” In an editorial titled “More Engagement With India” the Times said Powell’s meeting with Modi “was part of a renewed American effort to reach out to politicians across India’s political spectrum.”
“Such moves are long overdue,” it said, suggesting, “President Obama has not paid as much attention to India as President George W. Bush, a serious oversight given India’s central role as a democratic anchor in South Asia and its developing relationship with Japan.”
Noting that the India-US “relationship is under serious strains, including a trade dispute over solar panels and a row over a diplomat who was charged with visa fraud,” the daily said: “It is in no one’s interest to let these tensions fester.” “Regardless of who succeeds Prime Minister Manmohan Singh this year, the United States and India have a lot of work to do to strengthen their partnership,” it said, adding, “Opening a door to a relationship with Mr. Modi is a necessary step.” However, Coalition Against Genocide (CAG), a US-based group that came together after the Gujarat riots, has expressed “disappointment at the hype over the US administration’s outreach to infamous Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi.” “We do not believe Ms. Powell’s meeting with Modi serves any purpose other than providing the Modi camp some sound bites for use in the election campaign,” said Shaik Ubaid, a CAG spokesperson.
‘Time’ sees Narendra Modi as ‘America’s Other India Problem’
After India’s “nasty spat” with US over diplomat Devyani Khobragade, the emergence of Narendra Modi could cause more tension between the two nations, says Time magazine. After the “nasty spat” between India and US over an Indian diplomat, the emergence of Narendra Modi, Bharatiya Janata Party’s Prime Ministerial candidate, may cause even more tension between them, according to Time magazine. Indian diplomat Devyani Khobragade, whom US authorities charged with visa fraud involving her maid, has returned to India after being granted diplomatic immunity, the influential magazine noted in its 27 January issue.
“But don’t expect the relationship to rebound quickly,” Michael Crowley wrote suggesting “In fact, the atmosphere could soon become even more tense – over a far more prominent Indian also embroiled in a visa controversy.” Suggesting that the BJP “holds the edge” in the upcoming general election by May, he said that “If the BJP prevails, Modi will be India’s next Prime Minister. “Yet he is persona non grata in the US,” he noted “because of his alleged role in a horrific episode of sectarian violence in February 2002.” “Modi’s critics say he condoned or even encouraged the violence – accusations he stoutly denies and for which no Indian court has found him responsible,” Time noted.
In 2005, the State Department revoked Modi’s visa under an American law that bars a foreign official who “was responsible for or directly carried out … particularly severe violations of religious freedom,” Crowley recalled. “When Modi had no national profile, the restriction was inconsequential. But canWashington blacklist the leader of India?” he asked. US policymakers are divided, he noted. “A resolution introduced in November in the US Congress calls on the State Department to continue denying Modi entry. It has attracted 43 Congressional co-sponsors, including two Muslims.”
“Realists, and US business leaders wishing to capitalise on Modi’s openness to foreign investment, say his character should only be a footnote to Washington’s wider relations with New Delhi,” Crowley wrote. “Should Modi win, the Obama Administration will be pressured by many at home and abroad to condemn his past and prevent him from visiting the US. But (President Barack) Obama has tended to subordinate principle to the national interest,” he suggested. Noting that “Over the years, the US has done business with plenty of unsavoury leaders, in countries far less friendly than India,” Time said, “By revoking Modi’s visa, theUS Government has made clear its view of him and the Gujarat rampage.” “But Washington’s ties with New Delhi are too important to be confined through that prism if Modi becomes PM,” it said, suggesting “Both countries need to step forward and not allow Modi’s past to push them back.”