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Washington is ready to engage Modi
When the US kept its distance from Modi, Asian powers like China and Japan had aggressively courted the Gujarat Chief Minister over the last decade.
As the last round of polling closed in India on Monday, the Obama Administration became the first foreign government to signal its eagerness to work with Narendra Modi, widely expected to be sworn in as the prime minister of India in the next few days.
In statements issued by the White House and the State Department, Washington offered fulsome praise for India’s general elections, underlined the shared democratic values between the two nations, and affirmed Washington’s political commitment to work with the new prime minister of India.
Although the statements did not name Modi, their political intent is quite clear. Washington wants to put behind the controversy over the US denial of a visa for Modi since 2005.
Having accused Modi of complicity in the anti-Muslim riots in Gujarat in 2002, declared that he is not welcome in the United States, and avoided all contact with him until recently, Washington is now scrambling to make up in quick time.
When the US kept its distance from Modi, Asian powers like China and Japan had aggressively courted the Gujarat Chief Minister over the last decade. The British and West European governments which had joined the US in criticising Modi in 2002, smartly got off the high horse when they sensed that the political prospects of the Gujarat Chief Minister at the national level could not be ignored.
It was only in February this year, well after Modi was declared the prime ministerial candidate of the BJP, that the US asked its envoy in Delhi, Nancy Powell to call on the Gujarat CM.
On his part, Modi has repeatedly stated in recent days that he is not going to allow any personal bitterness to come in the way of strengthening India’s relations with the United States.
Modi also chose to recall the proposition that India and the United States are “natural allies” that was first articulated by Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee in 1998 and became the basis for the transformation of Indo-US relations since then.
Although Modi has said all the right things, Washington is acutely aware of the accumulated political damage done and the need for some visible warmth towards the new PM.
Monday’s statements from the White House and the State Department are only the first steps. Once Modi is sworn in, there will be further opportunities for the Obama Administration for official communication with the new PM.
Beyond the formal statements, however, there is need for an early high level contact between Washington and the new government in Delhi that could help bury the hatchet and set the stage for a rapid reinvigouration of bilateral partnership that stalled in the second term of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.
(The writer is a distinguished fellow at the Observer Research Foundation, Delhi and a contributing editor for The Indian Express)