TIME Afghanistan

Afghan Vice President Dies from Illness

In this Sept. 22, 2011 file photo, Afghanistan’s Vice President Field Marshal Mohammed Qasim Fahim attends a press conference honoring former Afghan President Burhanuddin Rabbani in Kabul, Afghanistan Kamran Jebreili—AP

Afghanistan's government announced on Sunday that Mohammed Qasim Fahim, who served as the head of the the nation’s intelligence service in the 1990s, and was appointed as first Vice President in 2009, has died of natural causes

Afghan Vice President Marshal Mohammed Qasim Fahim has died of natural causes, the government announced on Sunday, and three national days of mourning will be observed.

The official Twitter account of Aimal Faizi, the spokesperson of President Hamid Karzai, stated that Kabul has called for the flag to be flown at half-mast during that time.

Fahim, 56, was reportedly suffering from diabetes and died as a result of illness at his home in Kabul, according to Tolo News. AFP reports Fahim was labeled a “ruthless strongman” who received U.S. support after the fall of the Taliban in 2001.

According to an official biography, Fahim was born in 1957 in Panjshir province in northern Afghanistan. He fought against the nation’s Soviet occupation alongside military leader Ahmad Shah Massoud. Fahim served as the head of the the nation’s intelligence service in the 1990s, and was appointed as first Vice President in 2009.

His death comes ahead of the planned withdrawal of most foreign troops in December, and less than a month before Afghanistan’s national elections take place. Voters are due to decide a replacement for the mercurial Karzai, who is constitutionally barred from running for another term.

President candidates Ashraf Ghani and Zalmai Rassoul both quickly expressed their condolences on Twitter. “I am deeply saddened & shocked by the news of Marshal Qasim Fahim, 1st VP’s, passing. My heartfelt condolences with his family and #Afg ppl,” wrote Rassoul, the former Minister of Foreign Affairs who stepped down from office to run for president this year.

[AFP]

TIME

India’s Newest Political Party Takes the Fight to the Gandhi Heartland

AAP Leader Kumar Vishwas Greeted With Black Flags In Amethi
A group of Congress supporters greet AAP leader Kumar Vishwas with black flags on his way to Amethi to address in January 2014. Hindustan Times—Hindustan Times via Getty Images

Three members of the Gandhi dynasty have represented the Indian constituency of Amethi as MP, but the Aam Aadmi Party plans to change that

The headquarters of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) in the district of Amethi, Uttar Pradesh, are not much to look at. Cement shows through the thin layer of white paint covering the walls of what was once a basement storage area. Volunteers sit around on plastic chairs, sipping sugary tea out of melting plastic cups. The only swag in sight is a lonely t-shirt on sale for 50 rupees, bearing the slogan in Hindi: “Amethi will change. This country will change.”

But this kind of asceticism is perfectly fine when you are the new kid on the block in Indian politics and campaigning against “corruption and dynastic politics,” as Amogh Shankar, a teacher from Amethi and an AAP volunteer, puts it. “They are intricately connected,” he says.

The AAP has taken full aim at India’s ruling Congress Party. The party says that Congress, of which dynastic scion Rahul Gandhi is vice president, has led the Indian government down the path of corruption, and Amethi, where Gandhi happens to be the local parliamentarian, is one of AAP’s main targets.

In a few short weeks, more than 800 million voters are eligible to weigh in on that. National elections for Lok Sabha, India’s lower house of parliament, kick off on April 7, with results expected in mid May. In 2004, and again in 2009, the citizens of the Amethi constituency voted Rahul Gandhi in as their MP. Before that, Gandhi’s mother, Congress Party president Sonia Gandhi, held the seat, and earlier, it had belonged to Rahul’s father and the nation’s former Prime Minister, Rajiv Gandhi.

For many in this farming belt of northern India, that legacy is a matter of great pride. Not only have Amethi-ites elected some of India’s most powerful politicians, Congress supporters say the area has benefited during the decade that Gandhi has represented them. The scion’s critics, however, disagree, and chief among them is Kumar Vishwas, who is running on AAP’s ticket for Gandhi’s seat. A poet turned politician, Vishwas is spending the last cool days before summer on a village-to-village campaign to convince Amethi that his opponent’s time is up. “This is the most ignored constituency in Uttar Pradesh,” Vishwas said in an interview with TIME between rallies this week. “It was clear from day one that this seat would be a verdict on the dynasty of our party.”

Indeed, AAP’s fight in Amethi’s dusty village squares is about more than getting Vishwas a spot in Lok Sabha. Gandhi is not only running for a third term, he’s leading Congress’ election campaign, and could still be India’s next prime minister if the right coalition deal is struck. Since AAP gave Congress an unexpected drubbing in December’s New Delhi polls, the upstart party has taken its anti-corruption fight to the national stage. And while Vishwas vies for votes in Amethi, AAP leader Arvind Kejriwal, who did a brief stint as Delhi’s chief minister before stepping down last month, has taken on both Gandhi and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi in his own roadshow.

The BJP dismisses AAP as a serious contender. “I personally feel they are just cashing in on the hate of the common man for politicians,” says Rajiv Pratap Rudy, the BJP’s general secretary. Citing the fact that Kejriwal stepped down from office after he couldn’t get a new anti-corruption law passed, Rudy says, “at the end of the day, they behave like politicians.” Congress also slammed Kejriwal in February for quitting; a party spokesperson told the media the AAP leader was “a smooth liar who was looking for an excuse to run away.”

In Amethi, Vishwas’ campaign has inspired mixed feelings. One afternoon in the village of Sambhava, Vishwas stands in front of a small but enthusiastic crowd, wearing the marigold garlands required of any roving politician in India. Vishwas gears up the crowd, talking about the things he says his rival has not delivered: enough jobs, good roads, clean water, adequate health care. “The world is watching Amethi!” he shouts. Asking the young men to raise their hands, Vishwas urges them to join the AAP revolution.“Your children are going to ask you where you were when India’s second revolution took place. And you can tell them you were here with me!”

The day after the rally, a group of men from Sambhava gather outside an outdoor tea stall. The rough consensus seems to be — for that day at least — that many in Sambhava will vote for Vishwas. “These guys are real revolutionaries,” says Nand Lal Kashyap, a farmer who lives nearby. “We used to have this boundless faith, and now people are saying ‘no more.’ People are changing the way they think.”

Many of his neighbors may agree, but in other parts of Amethi, loyalty to the Gandhi family runs deep. Outside a busy storefront in Amethi town, Dharmendra Kumar, who works for Vodafone, admits he doesn’t have the same problems as many poorer residents of the area, and says perhaps Rahul Gandhi could be more accessible to his constituents. “Everyone wants change. That’s natural,” Kumar says. “But no one wants Rahul Gandhi to leave. He’s going to be the next Prime Minister. And in Amethi, we don’t produce MPs. We produce PMs.”

TIME

The Insanely Huge and Complex Exercise Known as the Indian Elections Begins on April 7

BJP Delhi president Harsh Vardhan launches a rally promoting Narendra Modi as the prime-ministerial candidate at the forthcoming Lok Sabha elections at the BJP office in New Delhi on March 4, 2014 Hindustan Times / Getty Images

900,000 polling stations, 814 million voters: Welcome to the world's largest democracy

India’s Election Commission has announced that the nation’s much anticipated general elections will begin in a little over four weeks on April 7.

Voters in the world’s largest democracy will go to the polls to elect members of the next Lok Sabha, India’s lower house of Parliament, in nine phases from April 7 to May 12. Votes will be counted on May 16.

The polls will be held across India on April 7, 9, 10, 12, 17, 24, 30, May 7 and 12. (Here’s a voting map.) Several states will hold their legislative elections during the same period. One of those could be the capital region of New Delhi, which recently came under President’s rule after its chief minister stepped down from office.

With approximately 814 million eligible voters, India’s elections are a vast and complicated exercise. At over 900,000 polling stations around the country, voters will choose lawmakers from the incumbent Congress Party, which has led India’s ruling coalition since 2004, the main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party, the new anticorruption Aam Aadmi Party and a variety of small but powerful regional parties.

For the first time in general elections, voters will also have the choice to record their displeasure with all the candidates, with the introduction of the “none of the above” option on the ballot.

TIME India

India’s Opposition BJP Will Storm the Next Election, a New Poll Finds

Supporters cheer beneath a poster featuring Narendra Modi at a rally near Bhagwanpura, Madhya Pradesh, India, on Feb. 26, 2014 Bloomberg / Getty Images

The survey results are a damning report card for the ruling Congress Party

A Feb. 26 report from the American think tank Pew Research Center has found that Indians want their next government to be led by the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) over the incumbent Congress Party by more than 3 to 1.

BJP’s prime ministerial candidate, Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi, was also viewed favorably by 78% of respondents, compared with Congress’s campaign leader Rahul Gandhi, who was seen favorably by only 50%.

The survey — which sampled the views of 2,464 adults in 15 major states between December and January — also found that 70% of Indians were not pleased with the way things are going in the country today. With national elections only weeks away, that’s decidedly bad news for Congress, which has led India’s coalition government since 2004 but has been struggling to catch up with Modi’s more energetic campaign in recent weeks.

Pew says Indians’ dissatisfaction is broad and deep among men and women, young and old, urbanites and villagers, those with less than a primary education and those with college degrees. They all think the BJP will do a better job solving India’s most fundamental problems, including fighting corruption, creating jobs, reducing terrorism and alleviating poverty.

That last one’s got to hurt. In recent years, Congress has hung its reputation in large part on its dedication to helping India’s poor through ambitious (and expensive) hallmark welfare programs that have guaranteed work and food to hundreds of millions of Indians. Yet 54% of respondents said they thought the BJP would do a better job helping the poor, vs. 21% for Congress.

Interestingly, the study found that BJP’s support was highest in several northern Indian states at 74%, but weakest at 54% in Maharashtra, Chhattisgarh and Modi’s own state, Gujarat.

Pew’s report notes — but does not give particular heft to — the fact that no one party has won an outright majority in India’s lower house for the past 25 years. That means smaller regional parties will likely play a big role in these elections, despite the overt support respondents showed for BJP.

TIME India

McKinsey: 56% of Indians Unable to Afford A Decent Life

An Indian labourer sits with a child outside a makeshift shelter on a highway on the outskirts of Hyderabad on Nov. 14, 2013 Noah Seelam / AFP / Getty Images

Report says public spending on basic services “will deliver very little” without also raising wages

How to count India’s hundreds of millions of poor is a debate that has been raging in New Delhi and beyond for years. Now researchers at the global consulting firm McKinsey have weighed in, suggesting a new metric for measuring how many Indians need the government’s help to live better lives, and what’s the best way to give it to them.

(MORE: How to Feed 800 Million People)

In a report released Wednesday, McKinsey Global Institute, the research arm of McKinsey and Company, applauds India’s recent achievements in poverty reduction, from 45% of the population in 1994 to 22% in 2012. Despite criticism that the current line too low, that success been a major talking point of the Congress Party, which has been heading the government for the last decade, ahead of this spring’s national polls.

But the report’s authors suggest — and many poverty advocates in India would agree — that focusing public time and money exclusively on Indians living below the statistical mark of spending Rs.22.42 ($0.35) per person per day in rural areas and Rs.28.65 ($0.45) in cities misses a large swath of the population. Many people can afford to spend more than that, but are nevertheless unable to take care of their basic needs.

By McKinsey’s count, that group numbers a whopping 680 million. MGI arrived at that figure by a new measure it has dubbed “the Empowerment Line.” Researchers measured how much it costs an individual to meet a set of basic needs — food, energy, housing, drinking water, sanitation, health care, education and social security — and achieve “a minimal acceptable standard of living.” Based on that cost, the firm concluded that 56% of Indians can’t afford to meet those needs, which is more than double the number of people the government identifies as living below the poverty line. MGI also concludes some 46% of Indians lack access to basic services from the government, like subsidized food, health care and early education.

(WATCH: What Ram Singh’s Life—and Death—Says About Violence and Inequity in India)

How to solve this problem touches on yet another longstanding debate in India: whether economic growth or public spending will lift more people out of poverty. The authors write that continued public spending on basic services “will deliver very little” without greater attention to how those programs are performing. Improving that performance, along with creating jobs that help incomes rise, will be key to raising more people above its Empowerment Line, they say.

That’s hardly a new notion, but proponents of a growth-first path for India will appreciate the statistical support of applying this new metric to old data. The authors point out, for instance, that “three-quarters of the reduction in the Empowerment Gap achieved from 2005 to 2012 was due to rising incomes, while one-quarter was due to increased government spending on basic services.”

Helping so many more people, of course, comes at a much greater cost and effort. Though the “Empowerment Line” loops in about 2.5 times more people than the poverty line, the report suggests it will cost seven times more to close the “Empowerment Gap” than the current poverty gap. That’s about 4% of India’s current GDP.

To achieve this, the report suggests that government must, among other things, spend more on improving its services, boosting farm productivity, which many Indians still rely on for income, and creating jobs off the farm in sectors like manufacturing. Of course, the government may not heed McKinsey’s call, but a few months before elections, and with millions of impoverished voters to court, all parties would be wise to listen.

PHOTOS: Disappearing Trades: Portraits of India’s Obsolete Professions

TIME India

Penguin India Issues Statement on ‘The Hindus’ Recall

Indian women browse through Penguin edition books on display at the New Delhi World Book Fair in New Delhi in 2012 Maral Deghati—AFP/Getty Images

Publisher says it has a "moral responsibility" to protect its employees from threats and harassment

Penguin India released a statement Friday on its decision to recall and destroy copies of The Hindus: An Alternative History by U.S. scholar Wendy Doniger. Since news of the decision broke earlier this week, members of India’s literary circles and media have demanded that the renowned publisher explain why it agreed to an out-of-court settlement with a Hindu group that filed civil and criminal law suits against it, claiming the book was offensive. Arundhati Roy, one of India’s most celebrated writers and a Penguin author, wrote an open letter to her publisher, asking, “Tell us, please, what is it that scared you so?”

Here is Penguin India’s Feb. 14 statement in full:

“Penguin Books India believes, and has always believed, in every individual’s right to freedom of thought and expression, a right explicitly codified in the Indian Constitution. This commitment informs Penguin’s approach to publishing in every territory of the world, and we have never been shy about testing that commitment in court when appropriate. At the same time, a publishing company has the same obligation as any other organisation to respect the laws of the land in which it operates, however intolerant and restrictive those laws may be. We also have a moral responsibility to protect our employees against threats and harassment where we can.

(MORE: Liberal India Feels Under Threat After Publisher Pledges to Pulp The Hindus)

The settlement reached this week brings to a close a four year legal process in which Penguin has defended the publication of the Indian edition of The Hindus by Wendy Doniger. We have published, in succession, hardcover, paperback and e-book editions of the title. International editions of the book remain available physically and digitally to Indian readers who still wish to purchase it.

We stand by our original decision to publish The Hindus, just as we stand by the decision to publish other books that we know may cause offence to some segments of our readership. We believe, however, that the Indian Penal Code, and in particular section 295A of that code, will make it increasingly difficult for any Indian publisher to uphold international standards of free expression without deliberately placing itself outside the law.

This is, we believe, an issue of great significance not just for the protection of creative freedoms in India but also for the defence of fundamental human rights.”

MORE: Sex, Lies and Hinduism: Why a Hindu Activist Targeted Wendy Doniger’s Book

TIME India

Liberal India Feels Under Threat After Publisher Pledges to Pulp ‘The Hindus’

The decision by Penguin India to recall and pulp a scholarly work has many concerned over freedom of expression in India Raveendran—AFP/Getty Images

Liberal India Feels Under Threat After Publisher Pledges to Pulp The Hindus

The outcry in India’s literary and media circles grew louder this week as the news sank in that Penguin India will recall and pulp all copies of U.S. scholar Wendy Doniger’s The Hindus in India. The publishing giant’s decision — an out-of-court settlement with a group that says the book is offensive to Hindus and therefore in violation of a law criminalizing “malicious acts intended to outrage religious feelings” — has raised questions over freedom of expression in India. It’s also highlighted the polarized politics of the world’s largest democracy as it gets ready to stage national elections this spring.

Though New Delhi’s booksellers may have had a banner day on Wednesday as copies of The Hindus: An Alternative History flew off their shelves, the specter of the tome’s disappearance in India has observers concerned. Last month, Bloomsbury India also withdrew copies of the recently published The Descent of Air India by Jitender Bhargava, after a government minister named in the book filed a defamation case against the author and publisher in a Mumbai court.

In a Feb. 12 statement, PEN Delhi listed that and other examples of legal action facing publishers in India. And while the group lamented Penguin India’s decision “to settle the matter out of court, instead of challenging an adverse judgment,” it also acknowledged that the industry is under fire, and said the recall “comes at a time when Indian publishers have faced waves of threats from litigants, vigilante groups and politicians.” (Penguin has not yet released a statement, but Doniger’s can be read here.)

Nikhil Pahwa, a PEN Delhi member and editor of digital-media tracker MediaNama, says the threat of costly litigation has increasingly become an effective way for interest groups to influence publishers in recent years. “Libel chill is the quietest form of attacking freedom of expression, and often the least noticed,” says Pahwa. Ultimately, he says, it leads to self-censorship when editors choose what books to commission, impacting access to knowledge and preventing healthy debate. “I think we should counter words with words,” he says.

(MORE: Sex, Lies and Hinduism: Why a Hindu Activist Targeted Wendy Doniger’s Book)

But the fate of The Hindus also reflects what many say is a deeper problem: the increasing ability of vocal interest groups to take control of the national conversation. Dinanath Batra, president of the Hindu group Shiksha Bachao Andolan that filed lawsuits against Penguin India over Doniger’s book, told TIME that his demands weren’t unusual in a global context. “If someone makes a cartoon of the Prophet Muhammad, Muslims are outraged around the world,” Batra said. “So why should anyone write anything against Hinduism and get away with it? It matters because this book is hurting the sentiments of Hindus all over the world.”

Certainly, many agree with Batra. (Some less articulate — and less polite — sentiments against Doniger’s book are being aired under the Twitter hashtag #WendyDoniger.) Batra and other critics of the book have said it is inaccurate and gratuitously oversexualizes aspects of Hinduism. But many also disagree and say activist groups like his are, by exercising their legal right not to be offended, impinging on other Indians’ freedoms. Doniger’s book has not been banned, but other bodies of work have, and the very laws meant to protect India’s religious diversity have had the opposite effect. “Religious extremists have more in common than they’d like to believe,” Indian poet and novelist Jeet Thayil wrote in an email to TIME. “They live to take offense, to intimidate, to threaten. Capitulation is an error. You are asking for more trouble.”

Does The Hindus incident offer any insight into the mood of the country ahead of this spring’s polls? Author Chetan Bhagat cautions against casting the sensitivities expressed by Batra as part of a strengthening Hindu nationalist sentiment, even if it takes place at the same time as the political rise of opposition leader Narendra Modi and his Hindu-nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party. What is happening, he says, is that the country is becoming more polarized as the vote draws near. “There is less respect for fundamental rights. Anybody with a little support group can gang up,” Bhagat says. As a result, a certain liberal sensibility — for people to vociferously object to a book and accept its right to exist — is in retreat. And that makes India look like an intolerant place. “People don’t realize they are harming the image of the country,” Bhagat says, “and the religion they are protecting.”

— With reporting by Nilanjana Bhowmick / New Delhi

MORE: Penguin India to Recall and Destroy Renowned American Scholar’s Book on Hinduism

TIME India

Indian Publisher to Recall and Destroy Copies of American’s Book on Hinduism

Penguin India

A reported settlement by Penguin India to recall and pulp copies of U.S. academic Wendy Doniger's "The Hindus" raises questions of freedom of speech in the world's largest democracy

Penguin Books India has reportedly agreed to recall and destroy all copies in India of a book about Hinduism by a U.S. religious scholar, raising concerns over the increasing sway of interest groups over freedom of expression in the world’s largest democracy.

In 2011, the Hindu nationalist group Shiksha Bachao Andolan filed a civil case against Penguin India over The Hindus: An Alternative History by Wendy Doniger, a professor of religion at the University of Chicago. The group claims the book offends Hindus by, among other things, inaccurately representing the religion and offering an overly sexual interpretation of Hindu texts. This, it contends, violates a section of the Indian penal code that prohibits “deliberate and malicious acts intended to outrage religious feelings or any class by insulting its religion or religious beliefs.”

The publisher has reportedly agreed to a settlement with the group that includes withdrawing and destroy all published copies of the book. In a Feb. 11 statement posted on the Facebook page of PEN Delhi, Doniger expressed concern for what that portends. “I was, of course, angry and disappointed to see this happen, and I am deeply troubled by what it foretells for free speech in India in the present, and steadily worsening, political climate,” Doniger wrote, referring to the recent surge of Hindu nationalist sentiment ahead of national elections this spring. Penguin India has yet to issue comment on the matter.

Many in New Delhi did not take kindly to the news either. Historian Ramachandra Guha called the decision “deeply disappointing” on Twitter. Union Minister Jairam Ramesh, speaking to the Press Trust of India, called Shiksha Bachao Andolan “some Taliban-type outfit” that is “distorting and destroying our liberal traditions.”

The development comes uncomfortably close on the heels of reports last month that Bloomsbury India was withdrawing another allegedly offending tome. According to local media, the publishing house withdrew The Descent of Air India, by Jitender Bhargava, after a defamation lawsuit was filed by former civil aviation minister Praful Patel, whom the book holds responsible for the airline’s financial losses. The publisher issued a public apology to Patel, who is currently minister of heavy industries and public enterprises. Bhargava stands by his book.

India’s tough libel laws are often exploited by interest groups eager to silence or censor unwanted voices. India was the first country to ban Salman Rushdie’s The Satanic Verses in 1988; the country’s most famous artist, M.F. Husain, died in exile in 2011 after facing death threats from far-right Hindu groups angered by his paintings of Indian deities in the nude.

As Doniger points out in her statement, readers in and outside India are still free to download The Hindus on Kindle. But the buying a book online feels like something of a hollow victory if hard copies are being removed from the shelves of the local bookseller. Doniger writes that Penguin India tried to defend her work, but was “finally defeated by the true villain of this piece—the Indian law that makes it a criminal rather than civil offense to publish a book that offends any Hindu, a law that jeopardizes the physical safety of any publisher, no matter how ludicrous the accusation brought against a book.”

TIME India

India’s Modi to Meet U.S. Envoy After Being Persona Non Grata in Washington

Hindu nationalist Narendra Modi, prime ministerial candidate for India's main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and Gujarat's chief minister, waves to his supporters during a public meeting at Somnath in the western Indian state of Gujarat Feb. 1, 2014 Amit Dave / Reuters

That might be because his party, the BJP, looks set to win the most seats in India's upcoming general elections

In a move that may signal a major shift in U.S. policy, Washington has reached out to opposition prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi just months ahead of national elections in India.

U.S. Ambassador to India Nancy Powell is scheduled to sit down with Modi after requesting a meeting with Gujarat’s long-time leader as “part of our concentrated outreach to senior political and business leaders which began in November to highlight the US-India relationship,” according to a U.S. Embassy spokesperson.

The move comes close on the heels of an unusually caustic spat between Washington and New Delhi over the unceremonious arrest in December of an Indian diplomat in New York. Though tensions have eased since former deputy consul general Devyani Khobragade was repatriated to India, the U.S. clearly felt a little TLC was in order with its long-time ally, seen both as a counterpoint to China and a crucial player in regional security given that most NATO troops are withdrawing from Afghanistan this year.

Reaching out to Modi was an interesting choice. His Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is hoping to unseat the ruling Congress Party and its coalition partners in this spring’s polls, and many observers say the party is on track to do just that. Indian voters are weary of the ongoing allegations of corruption and inefficacy that have dogged the coalition in recent years. With frontman Modi promising change, the Hindu-nationalist BJP has dominated the start of the campaign season. Early opinion polls have tipped the opposition party to win the most seats in the upcoming parliamentary vote, though no party is expected to win the clear majority needed to go it alone. Many question whether the BJP will be able to form a government with the charismatic but controversial Modi at the helm.

That’s why Powell’s meeting with Modi has grabbed New Delhi’s attention. (The Embassy did not comment on the date of the meeting.) Modi, who has been the chief minister of the western state of Gujarat since 2001, has long been a controversial figure in Indian politics for his alleged role in inciting, or at least tolerating, bloody sectarian riots that took place in the state months after he came to office. More than 1000 people, most of them Muslim, were killed in the demonstrations. Modi has always denied any wrongdoing in the riots, and has been cleared by Indian courts of the same. But in 2005, the State Department revoked Modi’s U.S. visa, citing his responsibility for state institutions at the time of the unrest. The government has since said Modi is free to apply for a visa to visit the U.S., but as his profile in Indian politics has grown, a group of U.S. lawmakers has lobbied to deny him entry should he apply.

Dilip Cherian, a communications consultant and commentator in New Delhi, points out that if Modi leads the BJP to victory this spring and ends up as India’s next prime minister, debate over whether the U.S. will grant Modi a visa may be a moot point. “Prime ministers only go to America if they’re invited,” says Cherian. “If a guy gets to be PM of India in a democratic process, the chances are very low he would not be invited to America.”

The impact of the upcoming meeting may be greater on the election process itself. Whatever it may or may not be intended to signal, many will perceive the sit down as a stamp of approval from America, helping whisk away lingering doubts that voters — as well as dissenters in his own party — may have had about Modi’s acceptance by global allies.

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