Zee Media Bureau
Washington: In a turnaround after years of shunning him over Gujarat riots, the US ambassador to India now plans to meet Bharatiya Janata Party`s prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi, a report said on Tuesday.
After European nations and Australia, the US seems to be set to end a boycott of Modi amid growing indications that he will win big in the upcoming General Elections.
A news agency has quoted a state department official as confirming an appointment between Modi and US Ambassador Nancy J Powell, without specifying a date.
"We can confirm the appointment (between Modi and Powell)," a State Department spokesperson told a news agency. The request to meet Modi has been made by Powell herself.
"This is part of our concerted outreach to senior political and business leaders which began in November to highlight the US-India relationship," the spokesperson said.
According to PTI, the meeting between Powell and Modi is expected to take place on February 13 (Thursday) in Gandhinagar.
Reports said Powell`s request for meeting has been accepted by Modi and exact time and date are being firmed up.
"Most likely, the meeting will take place on Thursday February 13," a source said.
Powell apparently wants to discuss with the BJP`s Prime Ministerial candidate issues related to the upcoming Lok Sabha polls and his vision for the country, sources said.
Before Powell`s formal request, the US embassy officials recently held a meeting with some senior officials of Gujarat government, during which the 2002 riots issue is believed to have been discussed among other subjects. That interaction apparently set the stage for the meeting between Powell and 63-year-old Modi.
Overseas Friends of BJP (OFBJP)-US president Chandrakant Patel, meanwhile, welcomed the decision taken by the Obama Administration in this regard.
"We highly appreciate the decision taken by US President Barack Obama, and Secretary of State John Kerry. This would further help in strengthening of Indo-US relationship," Patel said.
"Modi is the most popular leader of the country right now. Given that he has been given clean chit by all the courts in India, it was not fair on the part of the US to not to have relationship with Modi," Patel said.
The Gujarat Chief Minister has been criticised by human rights groups for turning a blind eye to riots in 2002 that killed up to 2,000 people, most of them Muslims.
In 2005, the United States revoked a visa for Modi under a domestic law that bars entry by any foreign official seen as responsible for "severe violations of religious freedom”, reports AFP.
Modi has denied wrongdoing and investigations have cleared him of personal blame, although one of his former ministers was jailed for life for instigating the killing of 97 Muslims.
The United States and India have built a growing relationship since estrangement in the Cold War, with most US lawmakers supportive of ties with New Delhi.
But Modi has faced opposition from an unlikely mix of left-leaning members of the US Congress active on human rights and conservatives concerned over the status of evangelical Christians.
A congressional aide said a meeting with Powell would send a signal of US openness on issuing a visa — an issue on which the United States has little way of changing course unless Modi again applies to travel to the United States.
"A meeting with the ambassador could be a way of signalling, `You`ll get a visa,` without having to say it, which she can`t," the aide told the news agency on condition of anonymity.
Modi has sought to portray himself as a business-savvy leader who can champion India`s economy and tackle corruption after a decade of rule by the left-leaning Congress party.
If elected Prime Minister, Modi would be highly unlikely to experience hassles with travel to the United States, which generally allows visits by leaders of friendly countries. For example, President Barack Obama invited his Kenyan counterpart Uhuru Kenyatta, charged by the International Criminal Court over 2007-8 post-election violence, to a US-Africa summit in August.
But some US officials are believed to have worried that bitterness over the past visa rejection would cloud relations with Modi if he becomes Prime Minister.
"Officials at the White House and state department are acutely aware that the prospect of a Modi Prime Ministership would create some real awkwardness for the United States. Here we have a major strategic partner, with whom we have a robust and growing relationship, but whose future leader is not allowed on US soil," said Milan Vaishnav, an India expert at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.
"A lot of the pressure comes from the private sector, which says that India is a big market for us, it`s an area of growth and opportunity, and if our policy doesn`t change, US firms could be at a competitive disadvantage compared with European businesses," he added.
Concerns over personal treatment are not new to the US-India relationship. In December, the two countries went through one of their worst crises in years when US authorities arrested a New York-based Indian diplomat on charges of underpaying her servant and lying on the worker`s visa form.
Indian lawmakers and commentators accused US authorities of humiliating the diplomat through a strip-search. The row abated a month ago when the diplomat, Devyani Khobragade, was allowed to return to India just as she was indicted.
Both governments have since voiced hope at moving forward. But the United States earlier Monday renewed one rift when it announced it would take India to the World Trade Organisation in hopes of opening up its booming solar power industry.
(With Agency inputs)