GANDHINAGAR , India: The United States Thursday ended a decade-long boycott of Indian opposition leader Narendra Modi over deadly religious riots, as its envoy held talks with the man tipped to be next prime minister.
Nancy Powell, the US ambassador to India, shook hands with Modi, who presented her with a bouquet at his official residence in the western state of Gujarat where he is chief minister, before closed-door talks.
The pair held “comprehensive and wide-ranging discussions” in the state capital Gandhinagar including on economic development, “terrorist groups,” India’s assistance in Afghanistan and health, Modi’s office said.
Modi also raised a recent row over the “ill-treatment” of a New York-based Indian diplomat, whose arrest and strip search sparked fury in India.
The chief minister said that “such irritants” should not happen if the Indo-US relationship were to realize its full potential, according to a statement from his office.
The United States in 2005 refused Modi a visa under a domestic law that bars entry to any foreign official seen as responsible for “severe violations of religious freedom.”
Modi, leader of the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party, is accused by rights groups of turning a blind eye to riots that killed up to 2,000 people in Gurajat in 2002 when he was chief minister. Most victims were Muslims.
Modi has denied any 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.
Powell’s meeting brings the US in line with European nations and Australia, which have already restored ties with Modi, as opinion polls show him on course to win power at general elections in May.
Powell did not speak to reporters after the almost hour-long meeting.
“This meeting was part of the US mission’s outreach to senior leaders of India’s major political parties in advance of the upcoming national elections,” the US Embassy said in a statement.
If elected premier, Modi would be highly unlikely to experience problems with travel to the US, which generally allows visits by leaders of friendly countries.
Modi has sought to portray himself as a business-savvy leader who can revive India’s economy and tackle corruption after a decade of rule by the left-leaning Congress party.
US automaker Ford is due to open a plant this year in Gujarat, where Modi is praised for running an efficient, pro-business government, while General Motors already has a facility there.
Strategic analyst Brahma Chellaney said the United States “is trying to show that it is willing to kiss and make up” given the likelihood of Modi ousting Congress.
“Mr Modi is ahead of his political rivals in all the opinion polls, so the US is simply seeking to protect its economic and strategic interests,” Chellaney, from the Delhi-based Center for Policy Research, told AFP.
Powell will also meet the Congress opposition leader in the state parliament, non-governmental groups and US and Indian businesses while in Gujarat. The US embassy statement emphasised that both sides were seeking “a strategic partnership that is broad and deep.”
Modi stated the need to “isolate terrorist groups irrespective of their base or victims” and bring those responsible for the Mumbai attacks in 2008 swiftly to justice, his statement said.