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Updated: March 22, 2011 11:30 IST

Engaging Modi the U.S. way

Suresh Nambath
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Facing the possibility of Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi assuming a leadership role at the national level, the State Department sanctioned meetings in 2006 at the level of the Mumbai Consul General. File photo
Facing the possibility of Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi assuming a leadership role at the national level, the State Department sanctioned meetings in 2006 at the level of the Mumbai Consul General. File photo

Confidential 2006 cable reveals complex calculations in the event of the Gujarat Chief Minister ‘making it to the national stage'; wants a clear message delivered on U.S. concerns over 'human rights and religious freedom'

Having declined to engage with him at the ambassadorial level because of his role in the 2002 Gujarat communal violence and anti-Muslim pogrom, U.S. diplomats found themselves, in 2006, facing the possibility of Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi assuming a leadership role at the national level. Conscious that the United States would have to deal with him at a later stage if he rose in stature on the national stage, the State Department evidently sanctioned meetings at the level of the Mumbai Consul General on the understanding that such interactions would also enable the U.S. to deliver a “clear message on human rights and religious freedom in Gujarat.”

In a cable dated November 2, 2006 (84043: confidential), the Consul General in Mumbai, Michael S. Owen, underscored the importance of interacting with Mr. Modi “whose B1/B2 visa we revoked in 2005, at the level of the Consul General” over the Chief Minister's role in the 2002 communal violence. Such interaction, Mr. Owen said, “will also shield us from accusations of opportunism from the BJP that would invariably arise if we ignored Modi now but sought a dialogue with him in the likely event that he makes it to the national stage.”

On the basis of discussions with leaders of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh and the Bharatiya Janata Party, the Mumbai Consulate concluded that Mr. Modi had set his sights on national politics. Interestingly, many in the BJP leadership believed that the Gujarat Chief Minister was the “only person of the BJP's many aspiring leaders who can reinvigorate the party and stop its further slide into oblivion.”

While there was no consensus on Mr. Modi's chances for success at the national level, some in Delhi and Gujarat strongly felt that his rise was inevitable, Mr. Owen added.

The Mumbai Consulate's 2,850-word assessment, which was cleared by the New Delhi Embassy before being cabled to the State Department, was carefully considered, nuanced, and telling. The disquisition could well form the core of an M.A. thesis in politics:

“If Modi does eventually get a national leadership role in the BJP in the foreseeable future, the USG [United States Government] will be obliged to decide how it wants to deal with a figure of national prominence whose B1/B2 we revoked. We believe it would dilute our influence to avoid Modi completely. If we waited to engage Modi after he attains national stature within India's largest and most important opposition party, many in the BJP would likely view this as an opportunistic move and only deepen the suspicions cultivated by some BJP leaders in western India since the visa revocation.

“Since the riots of 2002, we have declined to engage Modi at the Ambassadorial level, but Mumbai Consul Generals have routinely sought meetings with Modi whenever they visited Ahmedabad. We will continue to seek such meetings at the level of the CG to emphasize that the USG does not have a formal no-contact policy… and to demonstrate to the BJP that we are interested in cultivating relationships with the party while it is in the opposition. Direct encounters with Modi will also enable us to deliver a clear message regarding USG concerns for the state of human rights and religious freedom in Gujarat.”

On Mr. Modi's strengths as Chief Minister that could aid his national leadership ambitions, Mr. Owen's analysis was: “Modi has successfully branded himself as a non-corrupt, effective administrator, as a facilitator of business in a state with a deep commercial culture, and as a no-nonsense, law-and-order politician who looks after the interests of the Hindu majority. Modi's backers in the BJP now hope to convince the party leadership that he can use these positive traits to attract voters throughout India. Some BJP leaders believe, or hope, that voters will forget or forgive Modi's role in the 2002 bloodshed, once they learn to appreciate his other qualities.”

Not ‘if' but ‘when’

The Consul General quoted Harin Pathak, a BJP Member of Parliament from Gujarat, as saying that the BJP national leadership, and particularly former Deputy Prime Minister L.K. Advani, were convinced that only Mr. Modi could rejuvenate the party. Ram Madhav of the RSS also voiced similar views, “going so far as to say that Modi's ascendancy is not a question of if but when, and the USG must start considering now how it will deal with Modi when he becomes head of the BJP and leads the party's electoral campaign in the national elections scheduled for 2009.”

Mr. Owen also drew attention to what he saw as divergence between Mr. Modi's public image and his private actions. “In public appearances, Modi can be charming and likeable. By all accounts, however, he is an insular, distrustful person who rules with a small group of advisors. This inner circle acts as a buffer between the Chief Minister and his cabinet and party. He reigns more by fear and intimidation than by inclusiveness and consensus, and is rude, condescending and often derogatory to even high level party officials. He hoards power and often leaves his ministers in the cold when making decisions that affect their portfolios.”

(This article is a part of the series "The India Cables" based on the US diplomatic cables accessed by The Hindu via Wikileaks.)

The US has really shot itself in the foot in this one. It is hugely amusing to see the state dept, canceling Modi's visa and then having to speculate how to curry influence when he will be a national figure. The US has let itself be swayed by arguments of a group of people and taken this cheap shot of canceling the B1/B2 visa. The patronizing and sermonizing which underlay this episode and the dis-respect shown to an entire state by rejecting their elected representative, should come back to haunt the US.

from:  Vishwas
Posted on: Mar 23, 2011 at 10:39 IST

The Americans really are intolerable with their sanctimonious rhetoric. As culpable as Modi definitely is, the Americans should mind their own business. After all, they have a potential future president in Sarah Palin who is clearly a lunatic, and a very dangerous one at that. We ought to raise doubts about her as well. Instead we welcome her into our country. A commitment to hypocrisy is more evident in US affairs than any one to democracy.

from:  Samir Mody
Posted on: Mar 22, 2011 at 20:08 IST

America is a superpower. However, America has not kept a balanced view over Indo-Pak relations. Having kept a closer relationship with Pakistan for one or other reason, America has neglected a fast rising India. Part of this complex relationship can be blamed on India's attitude also. Since Pundit Jawaharlal Nehru's declared stand on the so called non-alignment movement and much closer relationship with such communist countries as USSR, China and Cuba, America has kept India at a distance. Times have changed. America is fast losing her economic superpower status. America needs all the help from whichever national party is in power. However, the leaked cable suggests a very superficial attempt at establishing direct, face-to-face contact with Narendra Modi, a much adored Hindutva poster boy. He may be a wonderkind to some of the saffronites for whatever reasons but has no national stature. His personality is pompous, acerbic and threatening to the general population. Especially to the minority segments. He has used all his cunning, power and charisma to interefere in a due process of law to avoid a direct link between Godhra carnage. Not proven guilty by state judiciary, highly manipulated by him personally, does not mean he is not guilty. All dictators have used his techniques all over the world. America is famous for having an excellent relationship with dictators of all sizes, shapes and colors. Perhaps, they wanted to test the saffron waters for a change.

from:  Sid Harth
Posted on: Mar 22, 2011 at 20:06 IST

Gujarat Swabhiman party, that should be the goal of Modi, CM Modi should NOT stay with BJP. If Modi does not leave BJP, then it is his ignorance.Videshi have no interest in Desh stability. Modi if he needs to really help everyone and India, then start Gujarat Swabhiman party and break away from BJP. BOTH fake opposition BJP AND CONGRESS need to end. Fake opposition BJP and Congress are both useless. both have same goal, kickbacks. Both have same agents and brokers. Only different markets and different media campaigns.

from:  Ravin
Posted on: Mar 22, 2011 at 17:01 IST

It's surprising the veil we citizens willingly hold over our own heads when looking at Modi. The information from this cable comes as no surprise that Modi's post-riot image was carefully cultivated to project anything other than the man behind the carnage. Also see Karan Thapar's interview on youtube

from:  Nityn
Posted on: Mar 22, 2011 at 15:51 IST

This article clearly shows that the US has a mole also in Modi's government is this bureaucrat called Arvind Agarwal.

from:  Prachi
Posted on: Mar 22, 2011 at 15:19 IST

Modi's outstanding quality is his incorruptible nature. This along with his being an able administrator, has drawn the attention of diplomats. In a nation beset with corruption, he stands different.

from:  G.Naryanaswamy
Posted on: Mar 22, 2011 at 10:37 IST

It is not wonder that America is looking for Modi.Actually they were waiting for Modi to rise. Cancelling visas etc., was a drama to show that US was for Human Rights.American policies are more suitable with right wing forces such as BJP, Shiv Sena and RSS. US main interest is commerce, commerce and commerce.For that they will even destroy earth for commerce and sell to other planets if exist.

from:  Poniiah Rajamanickam
Posted on: Mar 22, 2011 at 09:38 IST

The NaMo would be our PM no doubt all the best to him.

from:  Girish
Posted on: Mar 22, 2011 at 09:12 IST

Yes Modi is real estate's tool. See the rules that give different FSI in Surat 1,8 in Baroda 1.6. Surat is very rich. Jantri is not revised since 2008 even though Minister Anandiben Patel stated on floor that jantri will be revised in 2010, These action of delay was to safeguard the vested interest of Builders' lobby. In Baroda there is no traffic control at all. Senior citizens safety while walking on footpath is wiped out by foot path being wiped out by widening of roads to accommodate parking of cars, as builders have shown parking in basements while getting permission and getting completion and later on have utilised basement for other uses . These serves builders' lobby.

from:  Krishnakumar Desai
Posted on: Mar 22, 2011 at 08:24 IST

Modi will make Gujarat better than the best state in USA. This is not possible by voilation of human rights and denial of religious freedom but by adherence to these policice. 2002 Riots was the result of the Godhra express massacre. Does US view the Godhra massacre like an accident as was depicted by UPA and Lalu Prasad Yadav.

from:  Prasad
Posted on: Mar 22, 2011 at 07:51 IST
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