Washington, Feb 14: Amid a mixed reaction to US Ambassador Nancy Powell’s meeting with Bharatiya Janata Party’s prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi, the US reiterated its readiness to do business with whatever government emerges from India’s May elections.
“I know that there’s a lot of attention being paid to this one, but it really is part of our broader outreach,” State Department spokesperson Marie Harf told reporters Thursday in a telephonic briefing in snowbound Washington.
“And we look forward to working closely with whatever government the Indian people choose in the upcoming elections,” she said insisting that the Powell-Modi meeting Thursday was just part of a broader outreach to Indian politicians before the elections.
Asked “if that includes Mr. Modi himself,” Harf repeated: “Whatever government is chosen.”
Analysts see Powell’s Thursday meeting with the Gujarat chief minister as a clear indication of the changing US stance towards Modi, whom it was treating as a political pariah since 2005 when it revoked his visa for his alleged complicity in 2002 Gujarat riots.
But Harf insisted that “in advance of the Indian national elections” Powell and the US Consul General “are engaging in comprehensive outreach across India to senior leaders in political parties, business organizations, and NGOs.”
Since last November, she said, “Powell has been sharing and listening to views on the US-India relationship” and had “also reached out to the senior leadership in the Congress Party to engage in a similar discussion.”
“So these meetings are really all part of the broader US mission’s engagement with Indian politicians across the country and across the political spectrum, in keeping with the very comprehensive nature of our relationship,” Harf said.
But Anish Goel, a senior South Asia fellow at the New America Foundation, said Powell’s “meeting with Modi was a good initial step, but it is not nearly enough.”
Noting that Modi may well emerge as the prime minister after the elections, he wrote in a Foreign Policy blog, “the United States now faces the prospect of being estranged from the most powerful person in India.”
“As problematic as this situation has become, the United States has bigger troubles in its relations with India than Modi,” wrote Goel, who previously served in the White House’s National Security Council as senior director for South Asia.
“The political estrangement inexplicably extends to the whole of the BJP,” he wrote.
“Over the past ten years, while the BJP has languished in the opposition, the United States has let its relationship with the party atrophy almost to the point of on-existence.”
“The United States should remedy this situation as soon as possible to avoid any unwelcome surprises,” Goel said suggesting the US government also “needs to reform its untenable visa position on Modi.”
John Hudson, another Foreign Policy contributor, noted Powell’s decision to “to meet with a popular but controversial Hindu nationalist politician” is “fuelling a war of words here at home between Muslim and anti-genocide groups on one side and an array of pro-India groups on the other.”
“But in recent months, blackballing Modi became untenable given his status as the front-runner to become India’s next prime minister,” he wrote.
“For the State Department, a number of thorny issues remain,” Hudson wrote. “Technically, it would not be difficult for Foggy Bottom to resolve Modi’s travel status,” he wrote, but “doing so risks inflaming the leader’s vocal opponents in the US.”
However, “given the importance of the economic ties between the two countries — $100 billion worth of trade each year-it’s unlikely that the State Department will let a decade-old dispute disrupt relations should Modi become the next prime minister,” Hudson concluded.
(Arun Kumar can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)