President Barack Obama faces the prospect this week of having to offer his congratulations to a new Indian leader who was barred from the United States less than 10 years ago over massacres of Muslims in 2002.
As voting concluded in India's general election on Monday, four major exit polls showed Hindu nationalist Narendra Modi set to become prime minister, with his opposition party and its allies forecast to sweep to a parliamentary majority.
The elections results due Friday provide a chance to repair relations with the US that were strained by the arrest of an Indian diplomat in New York in December.
The Obama administration started mending fences in February, when, for the first time in Modi's decade-long tenure as the top official in Gujarat state, the US ambassador met with him. Officials since have said whoever is elected India's next leader would be welcome to the US, leaving little doubt that if Modi becomes prime minister, he could visit Washington.
On Monday, President Barack Obama congratulated India on its national election and said the US will work closely with India's next government.
"We look forward to the formation of a new government once election results are announced and to working closely with India's next administration to make the coming years equally transformative," Obama said in a statement.
Obama, who had famously called US' relationship with India as "one of the defining partnerships of the 21st century”, endorsed the primacy of the democratic choice of a country as big and as diverse as India.
"I congratulate the people of India on concluding their national elections. India has set an example for the world in holding the largest democratic election in history, a vibrant demonstration of our shared values of diversity and freedom," he said.
But the controversy over Modi's visa could leave some hard feelings, reports AP.
This is the same Modi whose US visa was revoked by the State Department in 2005, under a law barring entry of foreign officials seen as responsible for "severe violations of religious freedom". He has not applied for a US visa since then.
The US decision came in the wake of strong lobbying by the Coalition against Genocide (CAG) – a group of US-based organisations and individuals that came together after Gujarat riots to demand accountability and justice. Well-known India-born Christian evangelical John Prabhudoss was also among the prime pushers of the ban against Modi.
A pro-BJP group named Overseas Friends of BJP tried hard against the move but the US' India view in 2005 was simple - Modi was nowhere near the Prime Minister's Office and given the sustained opposition to him within India.
The tide changed after Modi won a third straight term as the Chief Minister of Gujarat. And, to his good fortune, his rise coincided with the decline of the UPA government, according to Zeenews online.
A Modi victory would be a blow for campaigners who have long maintained he is an autocratic Hindu supremacist responsible for an outbreak of religious riots in his home state of Gujarat in 2002 in which more than 1,000 people, mostly Muslims, died.
Modi's rise on the national stage, however, and the importance of relations with India, which the United States sees as a key counterbalance to China in Asia, has forced a rethink.
Ambassadors of the European Union and the United States have met Modi to patch up relations, reports Reuters.
Modi has denied any wrongdoing in 2002 and, in 2010, India's Supreme Court ruled that he had no case to answer.
The US State Department has repeatedly declined to spell out whether it will issue a visa to Modi as prime minister, but analysts say it is all but certain he will be given one because of the "strategic" nature of the US-India relationship, which Obama has called "one of the defining partnerships of the 21st century."
On Monday, the State Department described the Indian elections, which were spread over five weeks, as "an inspiring example of the power of the democratic process in action" and stressed their peaceful nature -- in spite of the killing of 41 Muslims in the state of Assam.
"We view our relationship with India as one that's vitally important for economic, strategic reasons," spokeswoman Jen Psaki said. "We look forward to working with the leaders chosen by the Indian people to advance this important partnership and to set an ambitious agenda."
Members of the US Congress campaigned against a visa for Modi in 2005 under the International Religious Freedom Act, but the strength of the anti-Modi lobby has since dwindled, Reuters wrote yesterday.
MODI TO VISIT UN?
In March, a report to the US Congress by a specialist in US immigration policy, Ruth Wasem, noted the 2010 Indian Supreme Court ruling and said that if Modi were to become prime minister he would be covered by diplomatic immunity and qualify for a visa.