Wikileaks Cables: US hedged its bets on controversial Gujarat leader

The US may have denied a travel visa to Narendra Modi, the BJP chief minister of Gujarat, over his alleged involvement in the 2002 riots that killed more than a thousand people in Ahmedabad, but behind the scenes US diplomats advocated engaging the controversial leader in preparation for the day that he becomes a player in national politics.

"The State Department evidently sanctioned meetings at the level of the Mumbai Consul General on the understanding that such interactions would also enable the U.S. to deliver a 'clear message on human rights and religious freedom in Gujarat,'" reports the Hindu newspaper, citing US diplomatic cables released by Wikileaks.

According to the newspaper, Mumbai Consul General for the US Michael S. Owen took the advice of a BJP legislator from Gujarat who quoted former BJP deputy prime minister LK Advani and a top leader of India's largest far-right Hindu nationalist organization, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), as saying Modi's ascendancy to a leadership role in national politics "is not a question of if but when."

A one-time RSS leader himself, Modi was until recently known principally for fiery anti-Muslim rhetoric, and many still blame him for the slow police intervention in the 2002 riots, though he has reportedly been cleared of wrongdoing by a special investigation team. In recent years, though, he has endeavored to distance himself from his far right image and cultivate an image as a pragmatic, business-friendly politician -- presumably with an eye to the prime minister's seat.