Obama bids fond farewell to outgoing India PM

WASHINGTON (AFP) - US President Barack Obama called India’s outgoing Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Saturday to convey “gratitude” for “his critical role” in deepening ties between the two allies.  

India is a key part of Obama’s policy of pivoting US power to Asia. On his 2010 visit, Obama called the budding strategic relationship between the world’s two largest democracies “one of the defining partnerships of the 21st century”.

The US president is now courting Singh’s successor, Narendra Modi, whose Bharatiya Janata Party’s won a crushing election victory and who was previously shunned by Washington.  

But Obama reached out to Singh Saturday, expressing “his gratitude for Dr Singh’s tenure as Prime Minister and his critical role in transforming and deepening the US-India strategic partnership and our cooperation on global challenges".  

“The president conveyed his appreciation for Dr Singh’s friendship, noting that he looked forward to further expanding the strong relationship between the United States and India with Prime Minister-Elect Narendra Modi,” a White House statement said.  

Diplomatic relations between Washington and New Delhi have drifted recently, antagonised by the arrest of an Indian diplomat in New York who was strip-searched over claims she mistreated a domestic servant.  

Final election results in India showed that the Bharatiya Janata Party, in opposition since 2004, had won the first outright majority by one party in parliament since the Congress party in 1984.  

Modi, the chief minister of Gujarat, was controversially refused a visa to visit the United States in 2005 over allegations he turned a blind eye or worse to deadly anti-Muslim riots in the western state three years earlier.  But State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said that Modi would face no problems visiting as prime minister because he would receive a special A-1 visa as a head of government.