Can the US trust Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi?

Narendra Modi. You may know him as the new prime minister of India. But to many, he is the former Gujarat state chief minister who idly stood by as hundreds of mostly Muslim people were murdered in the Gujarat riots of 2002.

Much suspicion surrounds the Indian nationalist’s handling of the situation. According to an article in USA Today, he encouraged the killing of Muslims by stirring the crowds to riot and using police force to aid rioters in their violence towards Muslims.

“What he knew and his level of culpability in orchestrating the violence is certainly up for debate,” said Jeremy Rinker, visiting assistant professor of peace & conflict studies, in an email interview. “But that he failed to adequately respond I believe is clear.”

Because of suspicions like Rinker’s, the U.S. refused Modi a visa back in 2005 while he was chief minister. Now that he is a prime minister he has no such problem. But while the U.S. government has let it pass, there are those who remain devoted to making Prime Minister Modi pay for his actions.

According to a web article in The Economic Times, a non-profit human rights organization — The American Justice Center — decided to take action by attempting to serve him with a court summons for charges of crimes against humanity, extrajudicial killings, torture and inflicting mental and physical trauma on mostly Muslim victims.

Something like serving someone a summons does not seem like an impossible task, but according to an unnamed government official, quoted in an article by The American Bazaar, “Sitting heads of government enjoy personal inviolability while in the United States, which means they cannot be personally handed or delivered papers or summons to be the process of this.”

“I was very frustrated with the Obama administration for so easily backing down on (both) his travel visa and criticism of his exclusivist past rhetoric,” said Rinker. “Of course an Indian head of state must be able to travel, but this does not mean that you welcome him with open arms.

“I think it would have been prudent for the Obama administration to express reservations about his election and visit.”

There were no such reservations, however, while he was in the U.S. During his visit, Modi met with President Obama, members of the United Nations and many of the top CEOs from U.S. companies like IBM, PepsiCo. and Google. In addition, he met with members of the Indian diaspora.

“The outpouring of support from the Indian diaspora while he was here was not surprising (wealthy Indians in this country are predominantly high-caste and pro-nationalist leaning), but it was quite scary,” said Rinker. “This blind acceptance of the ‘new Modi’ and the ’new modern India‘ is just devoid of fact and critical vision.”

This warm welcome displays itself as more of a desire to improve relations with India, than a direct disregard of Modi’s handling of the Gujarat riots in 2002.

“I think America and Britain were in a political no-win situation with Modi,” said Heather Hayton, director of the honors program, associate professor of English and creator and leader of Guilford’s annual summer study abroad program to India and the Himalayas. “We had just horribly mishandled the situation in New York with the arrest of an Indian pseudo-diplomat and needed to get Indian-U.S. relations back on track.”

According to an article in Forbes, Modi’s visit to the U.S. could yield rich benefits for both countries. So in an effort to smooth things over, the Obama administration felt it vital to accept Modi’s visa in order to create better bilateral relations.

This relationship is mutually beneficial, and Modi could gain a lot from a strong relationship with the U.S. His new campaign promises good governance, but his handling and displacement of responsibility for the riots does not bode well for India’s security. And, according to senior Kunga Denzongpa, an Indian citizen, Modi is repeating a common pattern.

“I have heard mixed views from people (on Modi),” said Denzongpa. “The Indian youth definitely seem to be more drawn towards his ideas. However, like every other politician, Modi seems to be full of promises but short of actions.”