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India polls: West starts awkward embrace of India's triumphant Modi

Published on May 18, 2014 10:43 AM
Indian prime minister-elect Narendra Modi waves to supporters after performing a religious ritual at the banks of the River Ganges in Varanasi on May 17, 2014. -- PHOTO: AFP

WASHINGTON (AFP) - Narendra Modi's crushing victory in India's elections presents an awkward task for Western powers who shunned the Hindu nationalist leader for years but see New Delhi as a crucial partner.

US President Barack Obama and other Western leaders invited the incoming prime minister to visit in congratulatory telephone calls and stressed common interests with the world's largest democracy after Mr Modi's Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) won India's widest victory in three decades.

The same governments until recently treated Mr Modi as a pariah due to accusations the Gujarat state leader turned a blind eye or worse to deadly anti-Muslim riots in 2002. The United States in 2005 refused him a visa on human rights grounds US officials "are painfully aware that they are at a real disadvantage by not having a relationship with Modi or really knowing him," said Milan Vaishnav of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

"They are going to try to remedy that as quickly as possible." As signs grew that Mr Modi was cruising to victory, the United States has rushed to undo the bad blood.

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