NEW DELHI — Being a business-friendly government official in one of the world’s fastest- growing economies can erase a lot of political baggage.
Or so it appears for India’s most divisive Hindu nationalist politician, Narendra Modi, chief minister of the western state of Gujarat. Modi is feted for catalyzing impressive economic growth in Gujarat, but he has also been excoriated for alleged complicity in the deadly Hindu-Muslim riots of 2002.
Now, after nearly a decade of diplomatic isolation by the Western world — the United States refused him a visa in 2005 — Britain has decided to re-engage with Modi’s government in Gujarat. The decision may just be the beginning of an end to his international pariah status.
“I have asked the British High Commissioners in New Delhi to visit Gujarat and to meet the chief minister and other senior figures in the state,” Hugo Sire, a minister in Britain’s foreign office, said in a statement on Thursday. “This will allow us to discuss a wide range of issues of mutual interest and to explore opportunities for closer cooperation.”
In the past few years, Modi has emerged as one of India’s least corrupt and most pro-business state chief ministers, winning many admirers inside and outside India. Gujarat’s strong infrastructure and Modi’s efficient, quick-deciding government have attracted Ford, General Motors and Suzuki factories, among other businesses.
But Modi also has been condemned by Human Rights Watch and others for not doing enough to stop the religiously motivated riots in 2002 that left more than 1,000 Muslims dead, and for allegedly protecting the perpetrators and obstructing justice later. The reprisal violence began after 58 Hindu pilgrims and activists died in a train fire that Muslims were suspected of starting.
In spite of numerous court cases and a campaign for justice by the riot victims, Modi has stubbornly refused to apologize for the violence. He continues to give rabble-rousing, pro-Hindu nationalist speeches. In 2004, India’s Supreme Court called Modi’s government a “modern-day Nero” for looking elsewhere when innocent people died.
Even as his political ratings went up steadily within India, many Western nations continued to keep him at arm’s length. Until Thursday’s announcement.
Modi, who is in the middle of an election campaign in Gujarat, quickly posted the news on Twitter.
@nardenramodi: (Better late than never). I welcome UK Govt’s step for active engagement and strengthening with Guj. God is great.