he U.S. ambassador will also meet the Leader of the Opposition in the Gujarat Assembly Shankrsinh Vaghela, after her talks with the BJP PM candidate
Washington ended its nine-year hands-off distance from Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi with U.S. Ambassador Nancy J. Powell meeting him in Gandhinagar on Thursday morning.
“This meeting was part of the U.S. Mission’s outreach to senior leaders of India’s major political parties in advance of the upcoming national elections,” said a U.S. Embassy news release immediately after the U.S. envoy met Mr. Modi.
During her visit to Gujarat, Ms. Powell will also meet representatives from non-governmental organisations and U.S. and Indian businesses. Her common message will be not only to highlight the importance of the U.S.-India relationship and American trade and investment in India but discuss human rights as well.
The U.S. has been holding meetings with important stake holders in India for the last four months so that it could work “closely with the government that the Indian people choose in the upcoming elections”.
Gujarat is not only the location of several American start-ups but the site of a multi-billion-dollar site for nuclear power reactors — the biggest single ticket investment opportunity for the U.S. economy in India.
While the European Union was the first in the Western bloc to end the deliberate isolation of Mr. Modi ever since the Gujarat riots of 2002, the Gujarat Chief Minister has been feted by other countries including a high profile visit to China.
From Mr. Modi’s perspective, things worsened in 2005 when the U.S. government not only refused to give him a diplomatic visa, but cancelled his existing visa under the Immigration and Nationality Act. This rarely applied U.S. legislation bars grants of visa to applicants such as convicted war criminal Slobodan Milosevic who might have indulged in severe violation of religious freedom.
Among the high profile Western envoys who have met Mr. Modi are a group led by German Ambassador Michael Steiner and U.K. High Commissioner James Bevan.
The Ministry of External Affairs did not see anything amiss in a foreign diplomat requesting the Foreign Office to facilitate their meeting with elected functionaries of a State government.
While the agenda of the meeting was kept under wraps, the U.S. has said it is part of increased engagement with Indian leaders across the political spectrum.
Ms. Powell travelled to the city for the first time in the last 13 years to meet Mr. Modi, who greeted the delegation with flowers at his residence in Gandhinagar.
The U.S. had scotched speculation that the Modi-Powell meeting would lead to lifting of the visa ban on the BJP leader, insisting there was no change in its policy.
A consular level officer of the U.S. consulate in Mumbai had met Mr. Modi after his visa was revoked, but later as his stature grew in Indian politics, the Chief Minister had stopped giving time to junior officers.
Ms. Powell will also meet the Leader of the Opposition in State Assembly Shankrsinh Vaghela, at his residence in Gandhinagar after her talks with Mr. Modi.
She is also scheduled to visit an outlet of the NGO Seva and the Pandit Deendayal Upadhayay Petroleum University later in the day.
Washington has made it clear that it was not taking any position on the upcoming Lok Sabha elections.
Reiterating that the U.S. does not take positions in elections of any country, State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki argued that Ms. Powell meeting Mr. Modi is not an example of the U.S. taking a position.
“We don’t take positions. So no, it wouldn’t be a reflection of that. It is just a reflection, as I’ve stated a few times, of us reaching out to a range of individuals from different backgrounds, different political affiliations, which we do in countries around the world,” she had said.