Prime Minister Narendra Modi was on Friday invited by US President Barack Obama to visit Washington in September, saying he wants to “work closely with Prime Minister to make India-US relations a defining partnership for the 21st century”.
This should be music to the ears of a man who was told, after the Gujarat riots of 2002, that he would be unwelcome in the US, if he were to visit to address Gujaratis in that country on a tourist visa. Subsequently the US cancelled his tourist visa.
But things have changed. US Deputy Secretary of State William Burns called on Modi and delivered Obama’s invite.
“The prime minister thanked President Obama for the invitation and looked forward to a result-oriented visit with concrete outcomes that imparts new momentum and energy to the India-US strategic partnership,” stated the Press Information Bureau.
“The relationship between the world’s oldest and largest democracies should not only be for the benefit of the two countries but should emerge as a powerful force of good for peace, stability and prosperity in the world,” Modi was quoted as saying, in the press release.
Modi is to go to the US to attend the UN General Assembly, sometime in September.
Soon after the Lok Sabha election results, chatter had started in the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) that Modi should not go to the US unless that country apologised for denying him a visa. However, that was put down firmly by the party’s senior leadership.
The bilateral aspect of Modi’s visit will be an important milestone for Indo-US relations. It was quite clear from the statement by the government that this would be a focussed results-oriented visit, not just a networking exercise or a pleasure trip.
The question is whether Modi will meet Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif in the US. In 2013, a meeting between the two PMs turned into a media disaster with Nawaz Sharif supposedly likening the Indian PM to a “dehaati aurat” (village woman) who would bring in third parties to settle disputes with her husband.
With hardly any formal forward movement in relations with Pakistan after Sharif’s visit to attend Modi’s oath-taking ceremony, exactly what if anything such a meeting will achieve will have to be assessed. The Sangh family will also give its inputs on such a meeting.
It is not yet known whether President Obama has issued a similar invitation to Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif.