The surprising surge in popularity of Narendra Modi's party ahead of India's elections (another apparent 'miss' by US intelligence) has left the Obama administration needing to "clean the slate." Only a year after taking office, US ambassador to India Nancy Powell has suddenly resigned her post (following press speculation) as the administration explained "was planned for some time, she will retire to her home in Delaware before the end of May." This appears a clear recognition that a Modi government is likely and a problem for the US who cancelled Modi's visa in 2005 over "severe violations of religious freedom." Another red line coming up?
In a sudden development, US Ambassador to India Nancy Powell has resigned from her post, days after media speculation that she may be shipped out.
"US Ambassador to India Nancy J Powerll announced in a US MIssion Town Hall meeting March 31 that she has submitted her resignation to President Obama and, as planned for some time, will retire to her home in Delaware before the end of May," an announcement in the US Embassy website said tonight.
US Embassy sources did not want to hazard a guess on the decision of the 67-year-old career service officer to quit her post and return home at a time when India is in an election process and Washington is also deeply interested in its outcome.
There was media speculation a week ago that Powell would be replaced with a political appointment as an attempt by the Obama administration to "clean the state" with India.
The report had said Powell had dragged her heels on meeting Gujarat Chief Minister Andra Modi and was perceived as being "too close" to the UPA's foreign policy establishment.
However, when Washington decided to warm up to Modi, perceived as one of the front runners for the prime minister's post, Powell met Modi on February 13, ending a nine-year-old boycott of the Gujarat leader on the issue of 2002 riots.
The US move marked a u-turn in its earlier stand of having nothing to do with Modi, whose visa it cancelled in 2005 under a domestic law on the issue of "severe violations of religious freedom". Ever since it had refused to review its policy.
The US is making friends and influencing people everywhere...
Moving the ambassador would be an easy way to preempt calls from Modi’s circle that, as PM, he should cold shoulder the US. “Being sacrificed for political ends is part of a career diplomat’s job,” said a diplomatic source.
The second front is the arrest and strip-search of Indian diplomat Devyani Khobragade. Powell has been privately criticised within US and Indian officialdoms for failing to pre-empt the crisis. But others argue the Khobragade incident was more a consequence of systemic problems than any individual’s failure. Either way, replacing a diplomat is an easy way for Washington to signal it wants to look beyond the crisis.