Will the US Change its India Policy after Modi’s Historic Win?

Narendra Modi’s historic victory in the world’s largest democracy may prompt the United States to change its policy on India.


Pro and Anti Modi Activists. Credit: http://newsindiatimes.com

“India is a big ship and it will take time to change direction” — Gunjan Bagla, Amritt Ventures

The Indian election result has lived up to its billing as one of the country’s most significant votes in its history: it’s a devastating defeat for the Congress Party and the Nehru-Gandhi family that has dominated the party and India for 60 years, and a resounding victory for Narendra Modi, who looks set to become the first-ever governor of a state to jump directly to the office of prime minister.

The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), led by its prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi, won an absolute majority in India’s parliamentary polls, according to vote counts by the Election Commission of India. This would be the first parliamentary majority by a single party in 30 years in India.

It is the first time since 1984 that a single party has succeeded in winning a clear majority in parliament. Furthermore, it is the first time since post-independence India that a non-Congress party has been able to achieve this feat on its own. President Barack Obama also congratulated Modi on the phone for his victory and invited him to the United States. The American media greeted Modi’s stunning win with Indian-American commentators saying US policy on India, and Modi, needs to change now completely.

Until a few months ago, Washington was effectively boycotting the man who is virtually certain to be now India’s next prime minister. The Americans, along with other Western governments, turned their back on Modi after widespread rioting in 2002 in Gujarat state, where he had become chief minister a year earlier. The trouble began when some 60 Hindu pilgrims were killed in a train fire blamed on Muslims.

Hindus then went on a rampage, killing more than 1,000 people in revenge, mostly Muslims. Critics accused Modi, a Hindu nationalist, of not doing enough to stop the carnage. Politicians close to him were convicted of involvement, including one of his cabinet ministers who was sentenced to 28 years in prison. Modi has always denied any wrongdoing, and subsequent investigations did not implicate him.

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However, human rights groups criticized those inquiries and Western governments kept their distance. During President George W. Bush’s administration, Washington went so far as to deny Modi a visa in 2005 on the grounds of “severe violations of religious freedom.” Modi did not offer an apology, which many victims and their relatives had sought. But as it became increasingly clear and declared now that Modi’s BJP won the election, Western countries reversed course and began reaching out.

The current situation will surely see some new changes in policy by Western countries. William Mauldin writing in the Wall Street Journal opined that Modi’s victory is expected to improve trade ties between New Delhi and Washington and could eventually lift US exports in industries ranging from pharmaceutical products to heavy infrastructure.

Obama’s pivot to Asia has been widely praised by most policy makers. But many critics wish that he would infuse the policy with greater substance and energy, wrote foreign affairs commentator Fareed Zakaria in an opinion piece in the Washington Post.

In a report from New Delhi, The New York Times stated that “with his conservative ideology and steely style of leadership” Modi will prove a stark departure from his predecessors. His image as a stern, disciplined leader has attracted vast throngs of voters, who hope he will crack down on corruption, jump-start India’s flagging economy and create manufacturing jobs, it said.

The Wall Street Journal said the “vote appeared to be a surprisingly broad repudiation of Congress’s welfare-focused approach to policy-making and an endorsement of Modi’s call for more effective governance and more business-friendly measures to create jobs and drive growth.” Noting that Modi, “ran on a platform of efficient, pro-business governance that resonated with Indians fed up with corruption, rising food prices and flagging economic growth under years of Congress rule, The Los Angeles Times noted “voters shrugged off the less savory aspects of Modi’s biography.”

Asif Ahmed is Assistant Professor, Defence & Strategic Studies, Department of Political Science, Kurukshetra University, Kurukshetra, He may be reached at asifahmed081@gmail.com and blogs at asifahmed081.blogspot.in. Read other articles by Asif.