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India’s Modi to meet US diplomat

The US appears to be changing its stand on India's opposition Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP’s) prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi.

NEW DELHI: The US appears to be changing its stand on India's opposition Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP’s) prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi.

The controversial politician has been banned from entering the US for close to a decade because of his alleged role in religious riots in 2002.

But he is now set to meet US ambassador to India, Nancy Powell, this week.

It is set to be the highest-profile encounter Mr Modi will have with a US official since his US visa was revoked in 2005.

The move to revoke his visa, which European countries as well as Australia also undertook, was over the Gujarat Chief Minister's alleged role in the 2002 riots that killed about 1,000 people, most of them Muslims.

The other countries ended their Modi boycott last year.

But will Mr Modi’s meeting with America's top diplomat in India signal that the US is now open to issuing him a visa?

American human rights groups and conservatives had lobbied hard to block Mr Modi's planned visit to the US in 2005, on grounds of human rights abuse, even though Indian investigators had cleared him of personal blame in the 2002 riots.

They may do the same if the US government decides to discontinue the ban on Mr Modi.

If so, that could hit the US-India strategic partnership launched in 2010, hard.

Shahid Siddiqui, former Samajwadi Party leader, said: "In India, any leader, who is elected by the people, should be acceptable by the United States. Mr Narendra Modi has been elected by the people of India thrice. There should not be any untouchability in diplomacy."

India-US relations have taken a tumble in the past few months over a diplomatic row involving the arrest and strip search of Indian diplomat Devyani Khobragade, who was accused of underpaying her maid and lying on the maid's visa form.

But the two governments are now keen to bring the bilateral relationship back on track.

Opinion polls show that the BJP is most likely to form government in India in 2014, which would make Mr Modi the prime minister of a country of 1.2 billion people.

Mr Modi has not applied for a US visa and is unlikely to do so before the general elections.

He would most likely hope to visit the US as prime minister of India, with his status and honour vindicated through an election. 

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