The European Union on Friday staunchly defended its decision to re-engage with Narendra Modi a day after it emerged that the Gujarat chief minister had a quiet lunch with the ambassadors of the member countries here early this year, ending a decade-old boycott.
The January 7 lunch is likely to be seen as a major boost for Modi, who after his third successive win in the western state, is being seen — and tipped by many — to be the BJP’s prime ministerial candidate in the next year's general elections."We are now in a new phase. This respect from us towards India is what the people of India expect from us," said German ambassador Michael Steiner at whose residence the now much-talked about fare was organised.
Steiner said the decision was taken after the state elections in December. “I always said… will take a fresh look after the elections. That is exactly what we were doing and part of it was to talk directly to chief minister Modi,” he said. adding he had complete faith in Indian judicial system.
The 2002 Gujarat riots in which more than 1,000 people, mostly Muslims, were killed are seen as a hindrance to Modi's national ambitions and acceptance.
Modi has been accused by critics of not doing enough to stop the violence - a charge he denies.
Steiner said the CM had lunch “at our invitation to discuss what happened in 2002”. “To discuss issues that have risen in terms of judicial process, accountability for 2002, to also discuss the development in Gujarat and his recent electoral victory,” said Joao Cravinho, the EU's ambassador to India.
The CM went to the German envoy's residence at the invitation of EU envoys to discuss trade and investment and not to offer explanation for the 2002, one of Modi's aides said.
Asked if EU had softened stand over the riots, Cravinho said, “The accountability of what happened in 2002, I think is the matter that is of interest to Indians and is of interest for people around the world.”
EU's decision, in part, was also reportedly influenced by a court verdict, sentencing a former member of Modi's cabinet, Maya Kodnani, to 28 years in jail for her role in the communal violence. The conviction signaled that those responsible would be punished, however slowly, said EU sources.
The Congress, however, hit back at the CM. “EU says accountability for Gujarat Pogram (pogrom) must be fixed. Does buck not stop with their lunch guest? Ignominious to be reminded by foreigners,” minister of state for information and broadcasting Manish Tewari tweeted Friday.