Under pressure from evangelical lobbies and American Muslims of Pakistani and Indian origin, the US Administration had denied visa to Narendra Modi, then Gujarat’s chief minister alone and now India’s prime minister-elect, in 2005 for alleged complicity in religious riots in 2002 that claimed about 1,000 lives of Muslims and Hindus.
Now Modi “will be welcomed” to the US, the White House said on Friday. Spokesman Jay Carney said President Barack Obama “does plan to reach out” to him soon. In a statement, State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said Modi would get a visa to that country once he takes office and forms a government.
The Barack Obama Administration had begun trying to mend fences with the Bharatiya Janata Party in February when, for the first time in Modi’s decade-long tenure as the Chief Minister of Gujarat, the US ambassador met with him. Officials since have said whoever is elected India’s next leader would be welcome to the US, leaving little doubt that if Modi became prime minister, he could visit Washington.
Now Modi would be eligible for an A1 visa, said Psaki, adding that American law exempted foreign officials, including heads of state and governments from certain potential inadmissibility grounds. “We congratulate Narendra Modi and the BJP on its victory in winning a majority of seats in India’s historic national election, which saw more voters cast their ballots freely and fairly than in any election in human history,” Psaki’s statement said. “Secretary Kerry has also offered his congratulations, and looks forward to working with the BJP on expanding our shared prosperity and security.”
“The President noted he looks forward to working closely with Mr. Modi to fulfil the extraordinary promise of the US-India strategic partnership, and they agreed to continue expanding and deepening the wide-ranging cooperation between our two democracies,” said the White House in a readout of the phone call that was made late at night (India time). “The President invited Narendra Modi to visit Washington at a mutually agreeable time to further strengthen our bilateral relationship,” the White House added.
Elsewhere in the US, New York Democratic Congressman and Co-Chair of the Congressional Caucus on India and Indian-Americans, said in a statement, “From Kerala to Jaipur, from Mumbai to Kolkata, the power of democracy was on display throughout the country. I applaud India’s commitment to the democratic process and wish the Indian people and government the very best.”
Sanjay Puri, Chairman of the US-India Political Action Committee similarly said, “On behalf of the Indian-American community and friends of India in the U.S., USINPAC extends its warm congratulations to Narendra Modi for leading the BJP to a spectacular victory in these historic elections in India.”
Emphasising that Indian-Americans were “heartened to note that the BJP will have single party majority in the Parliament,” he added, “The Indian Diasporas and friends of India in the US… cheer and send our best of wishes to the people of India, and the leadership of Mr. Modi.”
Notably, former US ambassador to India Nancy Powell’s appointment was seen as a sign of the plateaued relationship between Washington DC and New Delhi, for which she was removed from the post. Two other factors pushed her out. First, her refusal to engage BJP leader Narendra Modi in time. Britain, Canada and European countries all restored communication with him leaving the US as a reluctant last minute turnaround. Powell was believed to be going by the current government’s antipathy to Modi. Powell’s replacement has not been announced yet.
In the past several months, however, Modi and his followers have given enough indications during the campaign for the just-concluded general elections that they were not dying for the visa. In fact, the new government’s “look east” policy that aims at strengthening India’s ties with Asian countries to the east of it has the potential to leave the US high and dry, even though antagonism between the two countries is ruled out. The US is anxious to rejuvenate its ties with India also for its concern for the American defence equipment industry for which India is a big market. Modi, in his election speeches, has promised opening up of manufacture of military hardware to the indigenous private sector. When the goods meet the Indian defence standards and are incorporated by the defence forces, it would be a big jolt to the US economy.