Past visa ban on Modi won't affect ties with US: Analysts

Past visa ban on Modi won't affect ties with US: Analysts
Narendra Modi.

WASHINGTON - Pragmatism will be the order of the day for India-United States ties under the new government in New Delhi, say Washington observers, who expect both sides to move on quickly from the visa issue involving incoming prime minister Narendra Modi before the polls.

Though the US government has never officially rescinded the 2005 visa ban on Mr Modi over the 2002 Hindu-Muslim riots in Gujarat state early in his term as chief minister, the White House made it clear last week that he would be welcome in the country.

President Barack Obama called Mr Modi last Friday to invite him to the White House while administration officials stressed that the US looks forward to working closely with the new government.

Observers say the visa issue will likely be irrelevant as no US government is going to bar the Indian prime minister from entry. Similarly, US officials do not expect Mr Modi to hold on to any personal grudges for the previous snub.

Said Mr Ronak D. Desai, non-resident fellow at the Belfer Centre's India and South Asia Programme at Harvard University: "I don't think he will allow personal animosity over what has happened in the past to affect his duty as prime minister."

On top of that, Mr Sanjay Puri, chairman of the US-India Political Action Committee in Washington said that Mr Modi simply cannot afford to distance himself from India's largest trading partner after having run on the promise of boosting the economy. "They are going to move forward; they are not going to look backward," he said. "He (Modi) campaigned on good governance, creating jobs and making things more transparent."

Many in Washington expect to see trade links increase under Mr Modi's stewardship. In fact, most see last week's election results as a positive outcome for a US-India relationship that has recently been plagued with problems, including a diplomatic spat over the arrest of an Indian envoy in New York last December.

Of particular cheer to watchers is the size of the mandate won by the Bharatiya Janata Party, the first party to win an outright majority in the Lower House in over 30 years.

The majority, says Mr Puri, will help the US-India relationship avoid some of the pitfalls of dealing with a complex coalition.

"There'll be consistency, clarity and communication, which were missing because the coalition was pulling things here and there... A strong government will be beneficial for both countries."

jeremyau@sph.com.sg

This article was published on May 19 in The Straits Times.

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