`PM` Narendra Modi vs Barack Obama – who will blink first?

If the exit poll predictions come true, then the White House and the Capitol Hill would have much to ponder upon in terms of their failure to gauge the mood in India.

By Ajith Vijay Kumar | Last Updated: May 13, 2014, 14:53 PM IST

Zee Media Bureau/Ajith Vijay Kumar

Washington/New Delhi: If the exit poll predictions come true, then the White House and the Capitol Hill would have much to ponder upon in terms of their failure to gauge the mood in India.

Narendra Modi appears all set to be the next prime minister of India. The same Modi, whose US visa was revoked by the State Department in 2005, under a law barring entry of foreign officials seen as responsible for "severe violations of religious freedom". He has not applied for a US visa since then.

The US decision came in the wake of strong lobbying by the Coalition Against Genocide (CAG) – a group of US-based organizations and individuals that came together after Gujarat riots to demand accountability and justice. Well-known India-born Christian evangelical John Prabhudoss was also among the prime pushers of the ban against Modi.

A pro-BJP group named `Overseas Friends of BJP` tried hard against the move but the US` India view in 2005 was simple - Modi was nowhere near the Prime Minister`s Office and given the sustained opposition to him within India, the decision made sense to the US – it could score a goal in the name of “upholding human rights”, without having to trade anything in return.
The tide changed after Modi won a third straight term as the Chief Minister of Gujarat. And, to his good fortune, his rise coincided with the decline of the UPA government.

Suddenly, Modi was the proverbial elephant in room who was difficult to be ignored but the `superpower` chose to continue to dismiss him, worse still, it thought against making amends.

The US` penchant for continuing to live in the now redundant belief that the world has to bow to its diktats ensured that it missed the first bus to Gandhinagar. A country, which needs money to flow in from the developing world to bring its economy back on track, should have had a longer term view of the issues.

But Washington`s biggest ally, the British, was more pragmatic. In 2012, the United Kingdom – seven years after declaring that it was `maintaining no relationship` with Gujarat government over the 2002 post-Godhra riots – reached out to Modi and announced that it will enhance its engagement with Gujarat.

It was not the first time that the British displayed foresight - remember the East India Company`s success in ruling over half of the world.

Soon the European Union and Australia also saw sense in building bridges with Modi. He was nowhere close to 7 RCR then, but overtures towards him by them were a calculated risk to get into the right position if the unthinkable turned reality – PM Modi.

After having slept through the time when others were working towards a possible change of government in New Delhi, the US took the first step towards Modi in 2012 when three US Republican lawmakers accompanied a US business delegation that met him. The US administration distanced itself from the outreach but could only do so till last February 2014 when US Ambassador to India Nancy Powell flew down to Ahmedabad to meet Modi.
The State Department also changed its formulation saying that Modi was "welcome to apply for a visa and await a review like any other applicant".

Given the predictions that Narendra Modi will occupy South Block in a few days from now, the US` stance against Modi looks ludicrous and highlights the black holes in the famed US foreign policy framework – designed to ensure that US ends up on the winning side, always.

India is too big a game for the US to ignore; especially after New Delhi exposed it fangs over the Devyani Khobrgade row.

While a Modi victory would be a blow for campaigners against US visa to him, despite a clean chit from the courts, the bigger quandary is the one faced by the Obama administration.

There seems to be a sense of foreboding in Washington as US President Barack Obama has joined `the Modi cheerleaders` by issuing a statement that the US is looking forward to the formation of a new government in India, and pledged to work closely with New Delhi.

"We look forward to the formation of a new government once election results are announced and to working closely with India`s next administration to make the coming years equally transformative," Obama said in a statement.

Obama, who had famously called US` relationship with India as "one of the defining partnerships of the 21st century”, endorsed the primacy of the democratic choice of a country as big and as diverse as India.

"I congratulate the people of India on concluding their national elections. India has set an example for the world in holding the largest democratic election in history, a vibrant demonstration of our shared values of diversity and freedom," he said.

Clearly, America appears to be in a hurry to build bridges with India`s democratically elected PM, most probably Modi. Of all the considerations, the biggest pull is the United States` urgent need to counterbalance China in Asia, and India appears to be the only option.

And given his persona, the `chai-walla` would not bend an inch to help US hide its embarrassment. However, the US may still be able to work through the tangle because Modi as head of government would be eligible for the diplomatic visa.

The man, who was denied a regular visa, will have the red carpet rolled out for him. Modi could visit as early as September for the UN General Assembly in New York.

Democracy is the greatest leveller of all.