Author: Alyssa Ayres, Senior Fellow for India, Pakistan, and South Asia May 14, 2014
As India's national election reaches the finish line, the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), led by Narendra Modi, appears the front-runner. Should the BJP win, Modi, a once-highly polarizing figure, on whose watch Hindu-Muslim riots in 2002 claimed about 1000 lives in the Western state of Gujarat, will almost certainly become prime minister of one of the world's biggest economies.
Modi's past presents challenges for the United States. Many worry that the denial of a visa to him in 2005 over questions about his responsibility for the riots will derail U.S.-India relations. Due to changed legal circumstances, the visa issue will likely recede (the U.S. denies entry to few, if any, heads of government). What's more, America's relationship overall with India has too many components, and there's too much in the future at stake for both countries to get locked up in the past.
Final results of India's elections are expected Friday. Modi's election could certainly mark a new chapter for India. From a U.S. perspective, concerns about the health of Indian secularism will not simply disappear, but they should not derail America's relationship with the country. If Modi keeps his word and focuses on the economy, and if Washington seizes the opportunity, the United States and India will find a way to continue partnering productively.