Washington: Time magazine may have featured Narendra Modi on the cover of its Asia edition, and included him in an online poll to pick the world's most powerful people, but the United States government will keep its distance from the Chief Minister of Gujarat.
A spokesperson for the state department said last night that Mr Modi will not be granted a visa to visit the country. In a recent letter to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Republican Congressman Joe Walsh asked the government to reverse a decision taken in 2005 to deny Mr Modi a visa.
"The US position on the visa issue hasn't changed at all. If we do respond, it will be along familiar lines," said the spokesperson, Victoria Nuland, late last night.
That reassertion has given the Chief Minister's critics a chance to reinforce allegations of Mr Modi's links to the communal riots in his state in 2002, the worst in independent India. Twelve hundred people were killed in a matter of days, most of them Muslims. Though Mr Modi was re-elected in 2007, his failure to check the riots is cited by gentler critics, while more ardent opponents blame him for complicity in the riots, an accusation not proven in any court so far.
"It is a matter of concern to our country that there is this kind of serious question mark on the personality of somebody who leads a major state in our country. It is sad that we have that, and I hope that the person concerned will reflect upon this... why the world thinks so poorly of him," said Law Minister Salman Khurshid today.
Mr Modi was first denied a visa in 2005 by the United States - he had planned to travel to Florida where he was to address a convention of Asian American hotel owners - many Gujaratis are involved in the hospitality business in the States. The US said that it could not issue him a diplomatic visa because of its Immigration and Nationality Act which states that "any foreign government official responsible for serious violation of religious freedom is ineligible for a visa." The Congress-led UPA coalition was in power at the Centre and had protested the US decision. Mr Modi had described it as an attack on India's sovereignty. But the US also revoked an earlier visa that had been issued to him in 1998.
Last year, WikiLeaks posted a cable sent from India to the US in 2005 by diplomats in Delhi on the Chief Minister's visa controversy. Sent just days after the union government had protested on record about the denial of Mr Modi's visa, the cable sent in the name of then Ambassador David Mulford, said that the UPA, after having "gone through the motions" by protesting the US decision, was "unlikely to ratchet up the pressure further."
The cable advised, "Congress has long viewed Modi as a vulnerable target and will, at the appropriate time, use the visa incident as further ammunition against him. Both Congress and the BJP particularly value the US-India relationship and Modi's America bashing has made many nervous. Both parties will likely move to ensure that the negative impact on the relationship from this incident is minimal. With Modi's position deteriorating, the BJP leadership could decide to quietly push him aside at the appropriate time."
Given his ban from the US, Mr Modi often addresses Gujaratis in the country via teleconference, urging them to help bring more investment to a state booming with industry endowments.
The US government may not have warmed up to Mr Modi but its companies are keen to partner with him. Car giant Ford set up a unit at Sanand near Ahmedabad and there are proposals to make investments in the chemical sector in south Gujarat. The US-India Business Council (USIBC), a powerful forum that brings together captains of industry from both countries, has hailed Gujarat and Karnataka, another BJP-governed state, as ideal investment destinations within India.