PM Modi to US Congress: India speaks in one voice

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WASHINGTON: Characterising the rapid expanding of US-India partnership as “our calling for this century”, Prime Minister Narendra Modi told Americans through their lawmakers that it is a relationship which would make the world a better place and demonstrate that democracies matter and they deliver.
In an address on Thursday to the joint session of the US Congress, with some members boycotting the event and others skeptical of his democratic credentials, PM Modi made a strong case for the India of his vision and its place in the global order in partnership with the US, in the process repudiating criticism that his government has a Hindu primacy agenda and marginalises minorities.
“We are home to all faiths in the world, and we celebrate all of them. In India, diversity is a natural way of life,” he told the US Congress, while taking a dig at its own divisiveness.
Reminding them of the complexities of India, he spoke of its “remarkable journey of over 75 years of freedom, after a thousand years of foreign rule in one form or another”, telling them “it was not just a celebration of democracy, but also of diversity”. “…not just of our competitive and cooperative federalism, but also of our essential unity and integrity.”
Several lawmakers, notably from the so-called progressive caucus, including Congresswomen Ilhan Omar (a Somali-American) and Rashida Tlaib (a Palestinian-American), stayed away from the address, while some other pressed President Biden to take up the issue of free speech and minority treatment in India.
“We have over 2,500 political parties. Yes, you heard that right 2,500. About 20 different parties govern various states of India. We have 22 official languages and thousands of dialects, and yet, we speak in one voice,” he reminded them, suggesting that reports and fears of an authoritarian crackdown in India was overblown.
The address, PM Modi’s second to the US Congress, was replete with punchlines, and punctuated with applause and standing ovation from many lawmakers who take a more pragmatic view of PM Modi and India. Familiar chants of “Modi, Modi” erupted from the galleries where his supporters sat.
Aside from projecting an all-is-well picture, PM Modi also talked up the US-India partnership. “In the past few years, there have been many advances in AI – Artificial Intelligence. At the same time, there have been even more momentous developments in another AI – America and India,” he quipped, reeling off areas where the countries could work in tandem.
To lawmakers deeply conscious of serving their states and constituents, he invoked the business side of things, telling them “when defence and aerospace in India grow, industries in the states of Washington, Arizona, Georgia, Alabama, South Carolina and Pennsylvania thrive. When American companies grow, their research and development centres in India thrive. When Indians fly more, a single order for aircrafts creates more than a million jobs in 44 states in America.”
“The scope of our cooperation is endless. The potential of our synergies is limitless, and the chemistry in our relations is effortless,” he told a Congress where aside from a few skeptics there is resounding bipartisan support for US-India ties.
He also finessed New Delhi’s position on the Russia-Ukraine war to a Congress that is overwhelmingly anti-Moscow, acknowledging that countries of the Global South have been particularly affected by the conflict.
“The global order is based on the respect for the principles of the UN Charter, peaceful resolution of disputes, and respect for sovereignty and territorial integrity,” he said in implicit criticism of Russia — for long New Delhi’s ally in global forums — whom Washington is seeking to displace as a principal supplier of arms and energy.
There was also oblique criticism of China, with Modi telling lawmakers, “Dark clouds of coercion and confrontation are casting their shadow in the Indo-Pacific.”
India and the US share a vision of a free, open and inclusive Indo-Pacific, a region where all nations, small and large, are free and fearless in their choices, where progress is not suffocated by impossible burdens of debt, where connectivity is not leveraged for strategic purposes, he told lawmakers in a country that is in hock to Beijing for more than a trillion dollars.


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