The European Union has justified ending its decade-long boycott of Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi on the ground that he has not yet been judicially arraigned for the 2002 Gujarat riots.
The EU denied that the reversal of its stand had anything to do with Mr. Modi being projected as a possible prime ministerial candidate, and said the motive was primarily economic — to scout for investment opportunities in an industry-friendly State.
Last month, Mr. Modi held a meeting with envoys from EU countries at the German Embassy here. The meeting remained under wraps for a month until EU Ambassador João Cravinho informed correspondents of it on Thursday.
German Ambassador Michael Steiner justified the unanimity among the envoys to break bread with Mr. Modi — the Bharatiya Janata Party’s third successive victory in Gujarat under his leadership and the fact that no charge stuck on him in courts led the human rights-conscious EU to end its boycott.
It was under Mr. Modi’s watch that 1,500 Muslims were massacred, with the Supreme Court calling him and his ministerial colleagues “modern day Neros.” Only on Thursday did the court allow Zakia Jafri, wife of a former MP murdered during the Gujarat riots, access to documents including a report on interrogation of Mr. Modi, to enable her to file a protest petition against his exoneration.
During the January meeting, Mr. Modi did not regret the bloodbath but felt it was unfortunate and should not recur. He then went to say the “right things” — any party which wants to form a government at the Centre must adopt an inclusive approach and he would respect any judicial verdict against him. “I must say he said the right things,” said sources privy to the luncheon, during which several diplomats tried to assess his views on inter-communal relations.
The diplomats had fixed the meeting for the 10-day gap between the end of polling and counting of votes as if to portray their neutrality on the issue. Left unsaid is the fact that Gujarat has historically been a magnet for industries and is part of the ambitious Delhi-Mumbai industrial corridor. The United State, allocated a site for a multibillion-dollar nuclear park in the State, has been regularly despatching its political counsellors from the embassy here for meetings in Ahmedabad.
Mr. Steiner told newspersons that Germany had always planned to take a “fresh look” at Gujarat after the election. “That is exactly what we were doing and part of it is to talk directly to Chief Minister Modi. India is a democracy. We respect democratic institutions. We respect election results in India and we have full trust in its judicial system. Because of this respect and trust, we are now in a new phase,” he said.
Among the EU countries, Britain was the first to end the boycott last year when its High Commissioner James Bevan met Mr. Modi, largely to discuss investment opportunities for his recession-hit country.
The EU envoys are pleased they met Mr. Modi and could raise human rights concerns with him. “Frankly, how else do you raise human rights concerns if not in a dialogue?” said an envoy, pointing out that the elections were credible and so far the legal system had not made a different assessment of Mr. Modi.
But they deflected queries why the EU reached out to Mr. Modi at a juncture when some industrialists and a section of the media are backing him for the top job at the Centre. Had they met Mr. Modi a year later, critics would have pulled them up for interference in the country’s internal affairs at a time when general elections were close at hand. And the two arguments that turned doubters among the EU envoys in favour of those who proposed a face-to-face meeting with him were: 10 years were a decent enough waiting period and people were repeatedly electing Mr. Modi and the men close to him in largely free and fair elections.