British envoy visit boost for India's rising Hindu nationalist

Thu Oct 11, 2012 1:18pm GMT

By Annie Banerji

ALINA, India (Reuters) - Britain's envoy to India will meet a Hindu nationalist who many think could be the next prime minister, the first such visit since deadly religious riots in his state 10 years ago and a major boost to the pro-business leader's quest for mainstream acceptance.

Britain's foreign minister for India, Hugo Swire, on Thursday instructed the envoy to visit Chief Minister Narendra Modi, a policy shift that reflects both the leader's rising prominence and the western state's weight in the Indian economy.

"This will allow us to discuss a wide range of issues of mutual interest and to explore opportunities for closer cooperation," Swire said in a statement.

Modi is seen as the strongest opposition candidate for general elections in two years, thanks to rapid growth and a perception of corruption-free governance in his state, which has 5 percent of India's population but contributes 16 percent to national industrial output.

But charges he was complicit in the riots that killed at least 1,000 mainly Muslim victims have cast a long shadow over his ambitions. Despite big investments by European and U.S. corporations in Gujarat, Modi has been shunned by Western governments since the religious violence.

An official at the British High Commission in New Delhi said the policy shift reflected Gujarat's dynamic economic and business climate and came after high-profile convictions of some politicians in the state over the riots.

"If you can't engage at a senior political level, it is harder to spot opportunities," the official said, also acknowledging that Modi's rising political fortunes were a factor in the decision.

No date has been set for the visit, which needs approval by India's foreign ministry. "We hope soon," the official said.   Continued...

Gujarat's Chief Minister Narendra Modi addresses his supporters during an election campaign rally ahead of the state assembly elections at Dokar village in the western Indian state of Gujarat October 11, 2012. REUTERS/Amit Dave
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