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A U.S. ambassador should not be shaking hands with a mass murderer who is barred from the United States.
But that's what happened in India on February 13.
"The United States has ended a decade-long boycott of the Indian opposition leader Narendra Modi over deadly religious riots as a top diplomat held talks with the man tipped to be the country's next prime minister," Agence France-Presse reports in The Guardian. "Nancy Powell, the U.S. ambassador to India, shook hands with Modi, who presented her with a bouquet of flowers at his official residence in western Gujarat state, where he is chief minister, before entering closed-door talks."
In 2002, Modi presided over an anti-Muslim pogrom that left thousands of people dead in his home state.
"In many cases, the police led the charge, using gunfire to kill Muslims who got in the mobs' way," Human Rights Watch said in a report issued at the time.
After initially ignoring the bloodbath, the Bush Administration, in response to pressure from human rights groups, banned Modi from getting a visa.
Modi has now been chosen as the prime ministerial candidate of the rightwing Bharatiya Janata Party in this summer's national elections and is very eager to get the ban overturned. The Obama Administration has apparently decided that it is to the benefit of the United States to possibly go down that road.
Why? The answer lies with corporate interests.
"The U.S. carmaker Ford is due to open a production plant this year in Gujarat, where Modi is praised for running an efficient, pro-business government," AFP reports. "General Motors already has a facility there."
Plus, Westinghouse is to install a nuclear power plant in the state under a 2005 U.S.-India agreement.
Massive protests have already begun against the project, and, apparently, the United States wants to keep Modi's state administration on its right side.
Modi's "government has been keen on nuclear power," the Indian paper The Telegraph reported last August. "Even as protests have grown over the past few months, the Modi government has remained at least administratively supportive."
Plus, the United States is calculating that, if elected prime minister, Modi will carry the same pro-multinational outlook with him to New Delhi and lay out the red carpet for U.S. companies.
A prominent Indian-American organization is bewildered by the Obama Administration's move.
"It is difficult to fathom the reasoning behind the Administration's decision," Ahsan Khan, the president of the Indian American Muslim Council, tells me. "To us, it represents a violation of the principles of human rights and religious freedom at the altar of hyped-up 'business interests.'"
In prioritizing commerce over principle, the Obama Administration is not only legitimizing a killer, it is also aiding in his ambition to lead the largest democracy in the world. A widely publicized photo of Powell and Modi smiling together tells the Indian electorate that Modi is OK with Washington.
"The Administration's ill-advised move in easing the boycott on Mr. Modi is a violation of the principles of human rights and religious freedom of which the United States has long been a vocal proponent," says Khan. "Progressive groups in this country will ensure that the Administration's lack of judgment does not go unnoticed."
As they should.
Photo: Wikimedia Commons.