For anyone who has been following the campaign by political parties in India leading to the general elections this summer, the Hindustan Times report that United States ambassador to India Nancy Powell has got permission from the Centre to meet Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi does not come as a surprise.
If opinion polls are anything to go by, Washington will soon have to do business with a government in New Delhi headed by Modi. For the US, which holds the adage 'there are no permanent enemies, and no permanent friends, only permanent interests' as the bedrock of its diplomatic relations with foreign nations, it was natural to warm up to Modi. Clearly, both the US and Modi have come a long way since 2005 when the Gujarat CM was denied a US visa.
US visa not on agenda when Narendra Modi meets Nancy Powell
However, there are two points to take away from this US climb-down. The first: Is Washington trying to 'influence', albeit covertly, the political scenario in India? Citing this, many political parties have taken objection to Ms Powell's move. This is also because the US has a checkered past when it comes to 'influencing' elections (a recent example being the admission by former US defence secretary Robert Gates in his memoir that the US tried to delay and manipulate the 2009 Afghan presidential poll outcome). Given this, the US embassy statement that the meeting was "part of our concentrated outreach to senior political and economic leaders which began in November to highlight the US-India relationship" can be taken with a pinch of salt.
The second: Is it really a victory for Modi? The party has rightly refrained from speaking about this proposed meeting in a shrill pitch and will do well to overcome the temptation to go to town tom-toming this as Modi's 'achievement'. If the BJP was to highlight this as an achievement, it can be accused of doublespeak and of being opportunistic.
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Modi has grown in stature over the years despite the US and to a certain extent the US boycott has helped further his image as a 'desi' leader who 'is-not-a-American-stooge'.
In the crystal ball of Indian politics, Washington's retraction is a clear shot in the arm for the BJP's prime ministerial candidate. It does not require clairvoyance to see that countries, like the UK, the EU and now the US, are reacting after witnessing the 'Modi wave'.
When the political and diplomatic dust settles one thing is evident: This is a victory for Narendra Modi. But the question to be asked, in true 'NaMonomic' style is: Does Modi require the US or its endorsement at this point of time?
Narendra Modi, Nancy Powell, Narendra Modi US visa, Indo-US ties, Lok Sabha elections, general elections, BJP, Congress
(The views expressed are personal.)