Updated 3:15 p.m. ET Friday
U.S. officials welcomed the Bharatiya Janata Party’s landslide victory at the polls in India on Friday, saying they look forward to working with India’s next prime minister Narendra Modi when he forms a government.
“After the largest democratic election in history, US congratulates the BJP for its victory and looks forward to working closely with new gov [sic],” tweeted deputy National Security Advisor Ben Rhodes.
President Barack Obama called Modi later on Friday, telling the likely-incoming Prime Minister that he looks forward to “working closely” with him, according to a White House readout of the call.
The election is a chance for the U.S. and India to reset relations after the arrest and deportation of an Indian diplomat to the United Nations in New York strained the relationship earlier this year. But Modi has a troubled history with the U.S., potentially further complicating matters.
In 2002, Modi was governor of the state of Gujurat during anti-Muslim riots that left more than 2,000 dead. In 2005, the U.S. denied Modi a visa on the grounds that his role in the riots was still being probed. But Modi has since been exonerated, despite the fact that members of his cabinet were found guilty of inciting violence. And in the run up to the election, the U.S. ambassador to India met with Modi for the first time.
An administration official confirmed to TIME Friday that Modi will get an A1 visa, the kind afforded to heads of state, when he officially takes office. Obama also invited Modi to visit Washington at a yet-unscheduled time.
The BJP this week won the first absolute majority in parliament since 1984, taking 286 out of 543 seats outright and allied parties winning another 56 seats. The BJP, a Hindu nationalist party, has said it plans for focus its administration on trade and the economy, not on social and religious issues. On that front, the landmark pact forged by President George W. Bush has stalled in recent years due to U.S. frustrations with India’s reluctance to open up their markets to U.S. businesses and to crack down on intellectual property abuses. Despite that, trade with India has grown to $100 billion annually.
During a visit in 2010, President Obama declared the U.S. and India relationship a “defining partnership of the 21st century.” Still, given the distractions of the Arab Spring, Iran and Russia, it’s not a relationship the Administration has spend much time building. Likewise, India’s gaze has been turned inward in recent years, focusing on terrorism, the economy, and a debate over rape and the treatment of women.
The election, therefore, is a moment for both countries to reset relations and refocus their attention towards building a closer alliance. Or, as Senator Tim Kaine, a Virginia Democrat, put it in a statement congratulating Modi on behalf of the U.S. Senate: “We have a historic opportunity before us to leverage this partnership to make our citizens safer, healthier, and more prosperous. Let us seize this moment and ensure that the potential of our partnership is fully realized. Jai Hind.”
With reporting by Zeke J. Miller
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