Shukla says the past U.S. denial of a visa to Modi, on the rare grounds that he was accused of religious discrimination, was little protested at first, "as the details of who was responsible or not for the 2002 [anti-Muslim riots in Gujarat] were not available." But after the Indian Supreme Court investigators in 2012 absolved Modi, Shukla felt "we should normalize our relationship with Modi."
So it was "a shock," Shukla adds, when the State Department, pressed by an unusual coalition of Indian leftists, Muslims, and Christian critics in Congress - led by U.S. Rep. Joe Pitts (R., Chester) - said Modi would have to reapply to visit the United States. Penn's Wharton School rescinded a student invitation for state leader Modi to appear by video.
Will Modi now rush to accept President Obama's new invite to Washington? "People say Modi should refuse, the first time," said Shukla's visiting colleague, Rakesh Joshi, head of pediatric surgery at the 2,000-bed Civil Hospital in Ahmedabad, Gujarat.
The U.S. and Penn should admit "that the treatment of Modi was wrong, and such an error should not be allowed to recur," said Shukla. "This decision to disinvite Modi was capricious and insulting. He was a global leader on the rise."
Modi and his politics should have been debated, not banned, Shukla added.
Under Modi's rule in Gujarat, "in the last 12 years, peace has prevailed in Ahmedabad. There have been no more riots, which is actually incredible," said Joshi. Religious groups still live strictly apart, but "the thought process has changed. It's now for growth."
Pitts still has "unanswered questions" from 2002, but he "is not going to oppose [Modi's] coming to the United States," Andrew Wimer, Pitts' spokesman, told me.
Pitts said Obama needed to insist that Modi's Hindu- backed Indian People's Party "demonstrate that they have broken free of their record of tolerating this kind of violence," Wimer added. But, he agreed, "the recent election that brought Modi to power wasn't about religion, but about economics, jobs, and prosperity. That is encouraging."