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Kejriwal rivals Modi in envoy rush

New Delhi, Jan. 30: Arvind Kejriwal is threatening to eat into more than just Narendra Modi’s urban middle-class vote base — the Delhi chief minister is also emerging the latest political attraction for foreign envoys who were till now focused on courting the BJP’s prime ministerial candidate.

At least 10 European ambassadors have requested Kejriwal for appointments, amid a perception in the capital’s diplomatic enclave that the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) may play a key role in national politics after the summer Lok Sabha elections.

None of the ambassadors has received an appointment yet, officials at the missions that confirmed their requests said, and have instead been told that Kejriwal, though busy, is trying to schedule meetings with them.

“Make no mistake — for many diplomats here, understanding Kejriwal and what he may do in a larger role has become a crucial task assigned by their headquarters back in their capitals,” a senior diplomat of a west European nation said. “There’s very little clarity on his party’s (AAP’s) larger economic vision.”

Kejriwal’s decision to bar foreign direct investment in multi-brand retail in New Delhi has left many western nations worried about the future of their economic partnership with India if the AAP leader assumes a national role.

Though diplomats interact most with counterparts from their host governments, they are also expected to engage with Opposition politicians and key opinion makers in the country where they are posted.

But Kejriwal is proving harder to meet than most politicians.

The Germany’s ambassador to India, Michael Steiner, had sought an appointment — not just for himself but for President Joachim Gauck — to meet the Delhi chief minister. Gauck is visiting India in the first half of February.

Though the German President has far fewer powers than the Chancellor, the country — as the co-ordinator of the International Contact Group, a key band of nations involved in Afghanistan — is a critical nation ahead of the Nato pullout from Afghanistan at the end of the year.

India, which is concerned about the re-emergence of the Taliban in Afghanistan, is hoping to use Gauck’s visit to reiterate its worries.

But Gauck, officials indicated, was most keen on meeting Kejriwal. Gauck rose in politics as an anti-communist leader in East Germany.

At President Pranab Mukherjee’s “At Home” reception after the January 26 celebrations, Steiner had walked up to Kejriwal to request a meeting with Gauck, citing the common approach of civil disobedience that defines the AAP leader’s politics and the German President’s political rise.

Kejriwal’s office had rejected his request, but the chief minister indicated to Steiner that he would reconsider the ambassador’s plea.

The focus on Kejriwal in New Delhi’s green, diplomatic lanes represents a shift away from the spotlight on Modi, widely viewed by envoys here as the frontrunner to become Prime Minister.

The 2002 Gujarat riots may have rendered Modi untouchable for a decade. But in the past two years, the European Union chief, British high commissioner James Bevan and at least two dozen other western ambassadors have travelled to Gandhinagar to meet Modi.

Pakistan’s outgoing high commissioner Salman Bashir has said Islamabad wants to work with the BJP leader and Tariq Karim, high commissioner of Bangladesh — a Muslim-majority nation — met Modi in the Gujarat capital in July last year.