EU ends 'boycott' of Modi, envoys had lunch with him last month

Exactly a month ago, on January 7, about noon, a white Ambassador rolled into the Chanakyapuri residence of Michael Steiner, Germany's envoy to India. Inside was Narendra Modi, who had a fortnight earlier become chief minister of Gujarat for the fourth straight time.

Modi spent the next two hours with Steiner and his other guests ambassadors of all countries in the European Union. Over lunch, he faced some "tough" questions on the 2002 riots in Gujarat, and he answered them all patiently. He also told the envoys about his model of governance, and his ideas for India.

The meeting was the first European envoys had had with Modi since the riots nearly 11 years ago. Coming three months after British high commissioner Sir James Bevan met Modi in Gandhinagar, the meeting signalled the end of the EU's diplomatic boycott of him.

"Yes, he (Modi) had lunch with us in January," Joao Cravinho, the EU ambassador in New Delhi, confirmed to The Indian Express on Thursday. Possibly apprehensive of reactions around the world, both sides had been extremely discreet about the meeting so far.

"This was an informal meet, as we wanted to engage with him now," a top diplomatic source said. He added that "the important point is that, unlike the British and the Danish envoys, the European ambassadors did not go and meet him in Ahmedabad... rather, he came to meet us."

Another diplomatic source said, "We decided to invite him for this lunch for precisely three reasons: he has been re-elected for the third time, he has got political legitimacy, and he has made his ambition quite clear that he wants to play a national role. We cannot ignore him now."

Sources present at the meeting, however, insisted that concern over "human rights" remained at the heart of the envoys' engagement with Modi.

"If we have to address those concerns, we have to engage with him. That was made abundantly clear to him during the luncheon conversation. And last year, we have seen some movement in the judicial process which is somewhat encouraging," said a source, referring to the August 2012 court verdict that sent MLA Maya Kodnani to prison for 28 years for the Naroda massacres of 2002.

The Sunday Express had reported in its December 16, 2012 edition that following the Gujarat election results, ambassadors of EU countries would meet in January to weigh the pros and cons of continuing their policy of no senior-level contact with the Modi government.

In March 2002, EU ambassadors had resolved to break diplomatic contact with the Modi government at the levels of ambassador, deputy chief of mission and consul-general. A review in 2008 had decided to extend the freeze.

Cracks in the consensus appeared in 2011, when the Danish ambassador to India met Modi at least a couple of times. In July 2012, Ambassador Cravinho recommended to Brussels that the EU should continue to abide by the 2002 resolution. However, in October 2012, the government of British Prime Minister David Cameron established diplomatic contact with Modi at the highest level.

The breaking of the "consensus" by Britain which chose to inform EU partners of its decision just before going public with it had annoyed the EU diplomatic community, with most ambassadors privately questioning the timing of the British decision, barely two months before assembly elections in Gujarat.

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