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US envoy set to meet Narendra Modi

Washington, Feb 11 (IANS) Signalling a major shift in the US stand towards BJP’s prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi, US Ambassador to India Nancy Powell plans to meet the Gujarat chief minister shortly.

“We can confirm the appointment (between Modi and Powell),” said a State Department spokesperson in response to reports that Powell had made a request to meet Modi.

The BJP leader has been denied a US visa for his alleged role or inaction during the 2002 Gujarat riots.

“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, without commenting on the possible date of the meeting, possibly in Ahmadabad.

Powell’s meeting with Modi would put the US position in line with European nations and Australia which have warmed up to Modi since his emergence as a potential prime minister in India’s upcoming general elections in May. The US revoked Modi’s visa in 2005 under a law barring entry of foreign officials seen as responsible for “severe violations of religious freedom”. He has not applied for a US visa since then.

Since Modi’s emergence as a national leader, US business lobby has reached out to him.

In fact three US Republican lawmakers accompanied a US business delegation that met him in Ahmadabad last year. A senior US diplomat also attended that meeting.

But with US and Indian rights and religious groups pushing hard against a visa for Modi, Washington has stuck to its stand that there has been no change in its visa policy for the BJP leader.

However, the State Department has of late changed its formulation saying that Modi was “welcome to apply for a visa and await a review like any other applicant”.

Officials have also said that the US was ready to do business with any government that emerges from India’s upcoming election.

Meanwhile, amid reports that Powell plans to meet Modi, White House parried questions about a visa for him

“I would refer questions about visas to the State Department,” White House spokesman Jay Carney told reporters Monday when asked whether President Barack Obama had been briefed about the denial of a US visa to Modi.

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