Pragmatic view

The meeting of US ambassador Nancy Powell with Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi in Gandhinagar on Thursday marks a clear softening of the US attitude to him.

Modi was considered almost a persona non grata by the US administration for all the years since the 2002 Gujarat riots and even humiliatingly denied a visa in 2005. There was a conscious boycott, and the efforts of the BJP leadership to persuade the US to relax its position did not bear fruit. Human rights organisations in the US and a section in the US establishment have considered Modi responsible for the killing of over a thousand people in 2002 in the state.

But Washington has taken a pragmatic view now and made a diplomatic gesture with the visit of the ambassador. Obviously this is because Modi is the BJP’s prime ministerial candidate and the US will have to do business with him if the party is able to form a government after the elections and Modi heads it. The US business has been putting pressure on the administration for a shift in its position. The clean chit given to Modi by courts in riot-related cases has also helped in toning down the earlier stand. This has happened with the position of other countries also, notably Britain and the European  Union, which have recently reached out to Modi belatedly. This is not surprising because there are no permanent friends and foes in relations between countries. Personalities  take a back seat and it is interests that guide international relations. The US, and in fact all countries, have  histories of dealing with military dictators and others who fail standards of conduct in many ways.

The US administration has clarified that there is no change in its visa policy and the ambassador’s visit was a part of its engagement with all senior leaders. Even while the policy may remain the same the attitude has changed. However, there is no need in India to take a political view of it, and so it was churlish on the part of external affairs minister Salman Khurshid  to make an indirect criticism of it. Just as the US boycott was no proof of Modi’s alleged culpability, the ambassador’s visit is no vindication. It only shows a US readiness to accept a role Modi may have in future in India.

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