Ending a nine-year boycott, Powell on Feb. 13 met Gujarat Chief Minister Modi in Gandhinagar and said her country looks forward to working closely with the government India chooses after the Lok Sabha elections.
“US-India partnership is important and strategic, and that the US looks forward to working closely with the government that the Indian people choose in the upcoming elections,” a statement quoting the envoy said after the nearly one-hour meeting.
Talking about the meeting, Harf said, “These meetings are really all part of the broader US mission’s engagement with Indian politicians across the country and across the political spectrum, in keeping with the very comprehensive nature of our relationship.”
“I know that there’s a lot of attention being paid to this (Modi-Powell) one, but it really is part of our broader outreach. And we look forward to working closely with whatever government the Indian people choose in the upcoming elections,” Harf said.
The US scotched speculation that the meeting would lead to lifting of the visa ban on BJP’s prime ministerial candidate, insisting there was no change in its nine-year old policy that came in the aftermath of 2002 Gujarat riots.
“When individuals apply for a visa, their applications are reviewed in accordance with US law and policy. This is not a reflection of any change...This is simply a meeting happening on the ground in India. It’s not a reflection of anything else than outreach to a broad range of officials,” State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki told reporters. Modi’s visa was revoked in 2005 under the provisions of a domestic law on the issue of “severe violations of religious freedom”. The State Department sought to play down Powell’s meeting with Modi, saying it is part of increased engagement with Indian leaders and indicated that President Barack Obama may not have been involved in the decision to end the BJP leader’s boycott. Washington also made it clear that it was not taking any position on the upcoming general elections.
Justifying the meeting, Psaki said all relevant people required to take a decision were involved in the process. However, Psaki did not confirm if President Obama or Secretary of State John Kerry were involved in it. “These decisions don’t always rise up to every highest level. But certainly, all relevant individuals who needed to weigh in weighed in, and agreed that it was certainly an appropriate meeting to have,” Psaki told reporters. “We are often engaged in concentrated outreach to senior political and business leaders. We began doing that months ago, if not years ago – in different scales, of course – to highlight and continue our US-India relationship. There has been no changes in our policy per se. This is an effort in that engagement,” Psaki said. Responding to questions, Psaki refuted suggestions that the decision of the Administration was influenced by the lobbying efforts of some pro-Modi group and business community in the US. She said it was certainly not a reflection of anything changing regarding America’s longstanding and strong advocacy for human rights around the world. Reiterating that the US does not take positions in elections of any country, Psaki argued that Powell meeting Modi is not an example of the US taking a position.