U.S. to get down to business with Modi

June 06, 2014 01:28 am | Updated May 23, 2016 06:35 pm IST - Washington

A sigh of palpable relief could be heard in parts of the beltway on Wednesday after reports from New Delhi suggested that Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi had accepted U.S. President Barack Obama’s invitation to visit Washington for a bilateral summit while he is in the country for UNGA meetings in New York at the end of September.

After Mr. Obama discovered that he was virtually the last in line to end a boycott of Mr. Modi for alleged links to the 2002 Gujarat riots, behind the European Union and the United Kingdom, he >swung into action on election results day , May 16, and effectively reversed the nine-year visa ban during a congratulatory call.

In >accepting that invitation quietly nearly three weeks later the Modi government has balanced the impression that it may be willing to jettison any grudges about the visa issue with the unmistakable sense of coolness in engaging with the White House. This is in stark contrast to South Block’s overtures towards SAARC nations, Japan and even China.

On the other hand the U.S. has carefully managed its public messaging, refraining from any sharp criticism of the BJP’s decision to eschew FDI in multi-brand retail, announced recently by Commerce and Industry Minister Nirmala Sitharaman, true to her party’s manifesto.

The State Department’s remarks on the rape and murder of two girls in Badaun, Uttar Pradesh, were also calibrated as general observations on the need to curb violence against women, commending the efforts of many on the ground in India working for this cause.

At stake for Washington is the hope that under a reform-friendly Modi administration, reform in sectors such as insurance, banking will be quicker than they used to be.

The administration’s caution is not without reason. Leaving aside the widespread approbation for Mr. Modi’s leadership of the new government by corporate America and Indian-American groups, even Democratic lawmakers on Capitol Hill have implicitly urged that a warm welcome be extended to the Indian Prime Minister.

In a speech this week Senator Mark Warner, Democrat of Virginia and Co-Chair of the Senate India Caucus, said, “The U.S. should conduct a review of visa policies,” which had often proven to be an irritant in bilateral ties.

He also lavished praise on Mr. Modi for running an election campaign focused only on economic growth, job creation and increasing governance and for “[reducing] the number of ministers in his cabinet by combining similar functions that previously lacked synergy and strategic alignment.”

Senator Warner’s comments appeared to reflect the public mood across segments of the Indian-American community too, including traditional supporters of the BJP government such as the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (America).

VHPA organiser Utsav Chakrabarti said to  The Hindu  that as a free country the U.S. had its share opinion makers and special interest lobbyists who influenced decision-making. However, he added, “Not all decisions that were made in the past were based on factual understanding and sound judgement. The visa refusal was one such decision.”

If at all concerns about Mr. Modi’s alleged links to communal acts linger in certain quarters, they are being voiced by groups such as the Coalition Against Genocide, which has sought to keep up pressure on the Gujarat riots question.

In comments to  The Hindu  CAG spokesperson Raja Swamy said that as the head of the Indian government, Mr. Modi would  be afforded the standard protocols and conventions of international diplomacy and this “does not mean that the U.S. has issued any sort of ‘clean chit’” to him.

This article has been corrected for an editing error.

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