Modi will be the Prime Ministerial candidate for the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) which the opinion polls say will replace the ruling Congress coalition led by Rahul Gandhi. However, Powell’s visit had far greater significance than a ‘getting to know you’ routine part of the Ambassador’s diplomatic round.
The Chief Minister is still officially persona non grata in the United States, a visa to visit there cancelled nine years ago because of Modi’s alleged involvement in the infamous Gujarat Hindu-Muslim riots of 2002 in which more than 1,000 people died.
Charges were made at the time that Modi, a devout Hindu, had done nothing to stop the attacks on Muslim communities and may even have encouraged them. Various inquiries have cleared him of complicity while criticising his then fledgling administration for mishandling a volatile situation. However, the mud has stuck.
As recently as last year members of the Indian community in the US successfully forced a university to cancel a planned video address by Modi to a business forum. Then he was still a relative unknown to the Obama Administration, but times are changing.
The fact that Ms Powell met Modi on his home turf in the Gujarat State Capital Gandhinagar is a clear sign that Washington realises it has some catching up to do. More than a year ago Ambassadors from the European Union countries feted Modi at a lunch and in 2012 British High Commissioner James Bevan met the Chief Minister, officially ending a 10-year ban on links.
Modi and the US envoy were reported to have had a wide-ranging discussion, including human rights issues, terrorism and Afghanistan where Washington hopes India will play a bigger role after its own forces withdraw at the end of the year.
Not on the agenda, apparently, was the revocation of the visa ban. That will probably wait until after the election as to do anything now might be interpreted as the US favouring one side over the other. But if, as expected, Modi is the winner, an invitation to Washington will surely not be long in coming.