India's Narendra Modi: Too big to ban?

The UK government has ended its freeze-out of Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi, signaling that the Bharatiya Janata Party leader may be getting "too big to ban" as he edges closer to becoming his party's nominee for the prime ministerial race. The next question: Does this mean the US will rethink its decision to deny a visa to the man whom many still accuse of preventing police from interceding in the deadly Gujarat riots of 2002?

"On Monday, British High Commissioner James Bevan travelled to Gandhinagar and met Modi, signalling a 're-engagement' with Gujarat under Modi and ending a 10-year freeze and a virtual ‘boycott’ over the 2002 riots in which, among others, three Britons of Gujarati origin were killed," reported.

But even though the website argues this indicates "Western powers in economic decline are beginning to clamber down from the pedestal of the high moral ground" they adopted with regard to Modi, the UK's Bevan hastened to claim that re-establishing ties with the controversial leader doesn't amount to an endorsement.

“I don’t agree with your perception that we are rehabilitating Mr Modi,” FirstPost quoted Bevan as saying. “This engagement is not about endorsement.” If anything, he added, this was a “re-engagement” with Gujarat as a whole – and not with any individual. ”If we need to engage with some state, we need to engage with the chief minister of the State and Mr Modi is the democratically elected leader of Gujarat.”

In August, Maya Kodnani, an ex-minister and aide to Modi, was sentenced to 28 years in jail for her part in murdering 97 people during the Hindu-Muslim violence of 2002, the BBC reported earlier. More than 1,000 people, mostly Muslims, were killed during the riots, which broke out after 60 Hindu pilgrims died in a train fire blamed on Muslims in the Gujarat town of Godhra.

Subsequently, Modi has faced repeated allegations charging him with preventing the police from taking action until much of the carnage was over, though he has always denied those charges and an Indian court has ruled in at least one instance that there is not enough evidence to prosecute him.

So far, the US is holding its ground, but that will change in a heartbeat if Modi becomes the Indian PM, the website said, citing an unnamed US diplomat.

Already some US lawmakers have urged the US administration to re-orient its official policy towards Modi, including Congressmen Joe Walsh.

“If Modi becomes Prime Minister, the travel ban will naturally be forgotten," a Washington-based diplomat told the website. "We can’t block a head of state from attending say the annual session of the United Nations general assembly. If Modi becomes India’s prime minister, we will have to put out the red carpet for him.”

That's by no means a foregone conclusion, considering Modi faces opposition within his own party and might make forging alliances with regional leaders such as Bihar's Nitish Kumar and Orissa's Naveen Patnaik more difficult.  But the reversal begs the question: Does the UK know something we don't?