New Indian Premier Is Immediate Headache for Obama

Image: New Indian Premier Is Immediate Headache for Obama

Monday, 19 May 2014 08:07 AM

By Elliot Jager

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President Barack Obama on Friday invited India's Prime Minister-elect Narendra Modi to visit Washington when he called to congratulate him on his landslide victory. Modi had been banned from visiting the United States under the International Religious Freedom Act, over allegations involving his handling of 2002 ethnic rioting while he was a state official, The Christian Science Monitor reported.

No one else has ever been banned from the United States under the act. Modi's Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party, or BJP, captured 282 of 543 parliamentary seats also doing well in some Muslim districts.

In 2002, after a train carrying Hindu pilgrims went up in flames, Hindus in Gujarat retaliated against Muslims. In the ensuing mayhem, 1,000 people died, most of them Muslims. At the time, critics, including a former Supreme Court judge, held Modi — as chief minister of Gujarat — responsible for holding back as Hindus took revenge against Muslims.

Since then, Modi's form of Hindu nationalism and his BJP have de-emphasized anti-Muslim sentiment, focusing instead on their opposition to government corruption by the ruling Congress party, running efficient local government authorities, building infrastructure and creating a positive business environment.

Gujarat is one of the few places in India that has a reliable supply of electricity around the clock.

In February, U.S. Ambassador to India Nancy Powell met with Modi in Gujarat, the beginning of a process to re-establish contacts with the man who has now become India's premier-in-waiting.

Relations between the United States and India were also strained last year over the arrest of an Indian diplomat stationed in New York on charges she obtained a work visa for a babysitter in her Manhattan apartment under false pretenses.

At the time, Modi, as opposition leader, joined with the government to protest the affair and refused to meet with a visiting congressional delegation, the Monitor reported.

Meanwhile, Muslim leaders in India appear ready to give Modi a chance. Syed Mohammed Khalid, a Muslim leader in West Bengal, told Reuters, "This is not a vote on [religious] lines. This is a vote for development and for jobs. We respect the people's verdict, and we think Modi will have to be a responsible leader," according to the Monitor.

Modi himself said that while his "identity" is that of a Hindu crusader, "I say build toilets before you build temples," emphasizing economic infrastructure over denominational differences.

The Times of India compared his "epoch-making" victory to that of Britain's "transformative" Margaret Thatcher in 1979.

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