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Shift in power balance led US to reach out to Modi

The decision of the United States to renew its engagement with Narendra Modi, stemmed from a recognition that they could no longer afford to ignore the man who could well be the next PM of a close strategic ally. US visa not on agenda when Modi meets Powell | POLL: Will US recognition help Modi in the LS polls?

india Updated: Feb 12, 2014 14:39 IST
Prashant Jha
Prashant Jha
Hindustan Times
Narendra Modi,nancy powell,Gandhinagar

The decision of the United States to renew its engagement with Gujarat chief minister, Narendra Modi, stemmed from a recognition that they could no longer afford to ignore the man who could well be the next prime minister of a close strategically.

The decision also sprang from a shift in the internal balance of power in Washington DC. The move will boost Modi's international legitimacy, and may well provide a strong campaign point to the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in the run-up to the crucial national elections.

Read:US visa not on agenda when Modi meets Powell in Gujarat

Hindustan Times broke the story on Tuesday that US ambassador to India, Nancy Powell, requested for a meeting with Modi. They are expected to meet next week in Gujarat.

Read:US may end 9-year boycott of Modi, envoy asks for meeting

Read:US gets set to do business but is it big deal for Narendra Modi

Read: People believe US recognition of Modi will help him in Lok Sabha elections, according to HT poll

The US move

A Delhi-based Western diplomatic source representing a close US partner, which has engaged with the Gujarat chief minister, argued that America needed to "establish a relationship" with Modi before the Lok Sabha elections.

"I think it is less that the US making a judgment that he will win. It is more a case of wanting to engage with all the key possibilities for a new government here."

But the source added that US had taken longer than other missions in Delhi to see Modi as a serious candidate.

"His chances have been improving over the last 12 months. Till last summer, American friends did not think he would come so far."

The source also said that this must be seen as a part of the wider trend of missions reaching out to the Gujarat strongman.

"In January 2013, German Ambassador Michael Steiner hosted Narendra Modi for lunch with ambassadors of all EU countries stationed in India. This was their first collective meeting with the chief minister after the riots of 2002. In October 2012, British High Commissioner James Bevan had met Modi in Gandhinagar, breaking a ten-year boycott."

A diplomat from an Asian country, which has also been engaging closely with Gujarat, told HT, "The US move is interesting because of the visa issue but it is not surprising. As diplomats, we have to cover all bases. It is the prudent thing to do."

In a piece for New York Times, Zahir Janmohamed, who was formerly with Amnesty International in Washington DC and campaigned to deny Modi a visa, wrote about the "unusual coalition" that led to the visa-denial in 2005. These included "Indian-born activists, evangelical Christians, Jewish leaders, and Republican members of Congress concerned about religious freedom".

Read: Distorting visions: Looking at Modi through a different lens

Responding to the new development, Janmohamed told HT on Tuesday morning, "Forces working against providing Modi a visa are no longer as strong as they used to be back in

Washington. The Bush administration was obsessed with religious freedom, but this has slipped down the priority list of the Obama administration."

He added that there are other lobbies – particularly business groups, the Hindu America Foundation, Non-Resident Indians – who have argued for re-engagement.

"Business lobbies have pointed out that Gujarat's growth rate is higher than most Indian states. Others argue India's court system has given Modi a clean chit, and it is not tenable to ostracise him."

The US, he argued, was "scrambling".

"No one thought when the visa was denied that he would be a strong PM candidate. The administration is now trying to re-position itself so that it is not embarrassed if he indeed wins."

Timeline: A tremulous Modi-US story

BJP "victory"

The BJP is expected to sell the renewed engagement as a victory for the PM candidate. Party sources said that this represented a vindication of their position.

Read:Opposition parties slam US for warming up to Modi

"Modi did not go to the US. The US came to him. The message is clear that even the world's biggest power has recognised Modi, on his terms," said a source.

He added that they had not made the US visa issue a campaign point, but the renewed engagement could well come up in party's publicity about Modi's emergence.

"This will strengthen the perception that he is winning."

Read:10 things to learn about Modi from Gujarat polls

First Published: Feb 11, 2014 13:17 IST