Narendra Modi well on way to India's PMship, but US still mum on visa boycott

Written by PTI | Washington | Updated: May 13 2014, 18:46pm hrs
The US continued to maintain silence on granting a visa to BJP leader Narendra Modi, whose party-led NDA is projected by exit polls to form the next government in India.

"We don't speak on visa acceptances, applications, etcetera, so I don't have anything for you on that," State Department Spokesperson Jen Psaki told reporters at her daily news conference yesterday.

"We view our relationship with India as one that's vitally important for economic, strategic reasons, and one that we look forward to continuing to grow in the future," she said when asked about the issue of visa for Modi, who is BJP's prime ministerial candidate.

In 2005, the US State Department had revoked a visa that Modi had for travelling to the US on the ground of alleged human rights violations after the 2002 Gujarat riots.

The US has repeatedly said there is no change in its long-standing visa policy relating to Modi but he is free to apply for a visa and await a review like any other applicant.

Last year, Modi's plans to address by video a University of Pennsylvania conference were scrapped following opposition from Indian-American professors, alumni and students.

However, in a sudden u-turn in February, the US signalled the end of its boycott of Modi when its ambassador to India Nancy Powell met him in Ahmedabad.

US Officials have since said whoever is elected India's next leader would be welcome to the US.

"We look forward to working with the leaders chosen by the Indian people to advance this important partnership and to set an ambitious agenda," Psaki said.

She refused to comment on the results of the exit polls according to which Modi could be the next Prime Minister.

Meanwhile, a top American expert has said the prospect for a dramatic resuscitation of Indo-US relations under a Modi government in India looks less than promising, which he mainly attributed to visa issue related to him.

"Today, both Modi and the United States are trapped in a catch-22: in understandable pique, Modi has declared that he will never apply for an American visa again and there is no way to revalidate his now-expired visa if he will not apply anew," said Ashley Tellis, from the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, a prestigious American think-tank.

"This constraint would not prevent Modi from visiting the US in an official capacity as India's prime minister because he would be automatically eligible for an A-class visa as a head of government," Tellis said.

"Where international engagement is concerned, Modi is mostly likely to remember those who welcomed him while he was in the political wildernessand that means Japan, Israel, Singapore, and even, with qualifications, China," Tellis said.

The Obama administration, he said, at any rate, has sought to signal its willingness to let bygones be bygones, declaring through the congressional testimony of Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs Nisha Desai Biswal that it "look(s) forward to engagement with the new government".

While this constitutes an important overture, it is unlikely to win Modi's heart and mind. What would make the difference to him is either a public American expression of regret for the visa revocation or an open personal welcome to the United States, he observed.

"However, it is politically impossible for Washington to do the former, and it is unlikely that the latter will happen before Modi is clearly elevated to the position of prime minister," Tellis added.