New York: Even as the dithering Manmohan Singh government disenchants foreign investors, Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi has become the poster child for economic development in India and is attracting vocal support from American businessman and, lately, Congressman Joe Walsh.
“I looked into this. I was comfortable being an advocate for him (Modi),” said Walsh, who recently wrote a letter to secretary of state Hillary Clinton asking that she consider granting Modi a visa.
Speaking at a Gujarat Day celebration in Bartlett last month, Walsh labelled Modi as someone with “quite a successful track record” of fiscal responsibility, “kind of like a Tea Party free market guy in India, which I found very appealing.”
Walsh said he would not smile until Modi is officially invited to the US. Walsh got a standing ovation from the 1,500-strong crowd for his comment.
Members of the Indian-American community in Illinois’ northwest suburban 8th Congressional District, where Walsh is making a November bid for re-election against Democrat Tammy Duckworth, have asked Walsh to intercede on behalf of Modi. And, by championing the Gujarat Chief Minister, Walsh has endeared himself to the affluent Indian voting constituency.
Several American business leaders and State Department officials have found themselves speaking admiringly — not gushingly, but with unambiguous approbation all the same — about Modi. The State Department has organised several delegations to Gujarat. It is astonishing as the same US State Department had concluded that Modi encouraged or at least countenanced the anti-Muslim violence in Gujarat in 2002 through instructions to police to stand down. In 2005, the US government refused to allow Modi a visa on these grounds.
It made Modi furious that the US was passing judgment on him. He even cranked up his state information department to print a 47-page booklet, titled, “US Refusal of Visa to Shri Narendra Modi: India Stands United.”
“The communal riots that occurred in the state of Gujarat that took place in 2002 are undeniably tragic,” Walsh wrote in his letter to Clinton. However, he noted, “The region has worked for years now to bring justice to those that committed serious crimes and many strides have been seen toward reconciliation among Muslims and Hindus in the region.”
Walsh also drew attention to a report (here) by the Congressional Research Service, an independent research wing of the US Congress, which primed lawmakers and the States department for the return of the BJP to power in New Delhi, with Modi at the helm as prime minister, following what US analysts say is a “precipitous” decline in the Congress party’s fortunes due to corruption scandals.
Walsh went with the theme of the report, noting that Modi “has been recognized across the world for establishing Gujarat as the most business-friendly state in India and is widely believed to be a serious contender for the 2014 election for Indian Prime Minister.”
The State Department said it has been in touch with Walsh’s office over the issue, but declined to comment.
If Modi becomes Prime Minister, the travel ban will naturally be forgotten. “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,” a US diplomat in Washington earlier told Firstpost,
Despite the bad blood over Modi’s US visa, American companies have a strong love affair with Gujarat. US investors describe Gujarat’s civil service as a disciplined force that approves land purchases and environmental permits quickly.
A report by international brokerage CLSA released last week (details here), also observed that Gujarat had achieved average real GDP growth of 10 percent over the past seven years, accounted for 16 percent of India’s industrial production and 22 percent of exports, although it only contained 5 percent of the country’s population. That growth has led to improved roads, a power surplus, and an integrated gas grid.
The Modi government is hoping to attract $20 billion in foreign investments to develop a centre for biotechnology, software development and light manufacturing in coming years in Dholera, a port south of the capital of Ahmedabad. Modi even plans to build a new international airport nearby. US companies are keen to participate in Gujarat’s massive infrastructure build out.