By Mayank Chhaya-
For a leader who was barred from even visiting the U.S. for close to ten years until he became India’s Prime Minister in 2014, Narendra Modi has witnessed an extraordinary transformation in the way Washington views him.
Emblematizing that transformation is not just his upcoming state visit to the nation’s capital on June 22 but, equally, his address to a joint session of Congress the same day. That will be the second time that Modi will address Congress. He first did so in 2016. With that Modi will become the first Indian prime minister to have addressed a joint session of Congress twice.
Starting with Rajiv Gandhi in 1985, four other Indian prime ministers, P V Narasimha Rao, 1994, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, 2000, Dr, Manmohan Singh, 2005 and Modi, 2016 have addressed Congress.
The four grandees of Congress, Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer, Speaker Kevin McCarthy, Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell and House Democratic Leader Hakeem Jeffries have extended a formal invitation to the prime minister. It is one of the highest honors America accords visiting dignitaries.
“During your address, you will have the opportunity to share your vision for India’s future and speak to the global challenges our countries both face,” the letter said.
“Your historic address to a Joint Meeting of Congress seven years ago left a lasting impact and greatly deepened the friendship between the United States and India. As you said in that address, “Our friendship is primed for a momentous future. The constraints of the past are behind us and foundations of the future are firmly in place.” We look forward to paving the way for greater collaboration between our countries in years to come.”
The state visit is as much a recognition of India’s rise over the last three decades as it is an intrinsic part of Washington’s strategy to subtly elevate the country as a global counterweight to an increasingly bellicose China. There is clear realization in Washington that Beijing is now its most consequential global nemesis economically, militarily and technologically. It is essential for the U.S. to keep India on its side even while reconciling with its sovereign right to take independent positions on global issues even if they are sometimes in conflict with Washington.
One current example of that is the fact that the Biden administration has accepted India’s independent position on the Russia-Ukraine war where New Delhi has not outright condemned Moscow for the invasion but indirectly counseled it to end the conflict.
It was 2005, when the administration of then-President George W. Bush denied him a visa. It was under a U.S. law that bars entry to foreigners who have committed “particularly severe violations of religious freedom.” In Modi’s case that violation related to the 2002 sectarian riots in Gujarat that saw over 1000 Muslims being killed. The riots and killings followed the firebombing of a train carrying Hindu pilgrims near the town of Godhra which took the lives of 59 people on February 27, 2002. Modi was accused of inaction at best and connivance at worst, both of which he has consistently denied.
An official White House statement on May 10 had said the visit “will affirm the deep and close partnership between the United States and India and the warm bonds of family and friendship that link Americans and Indians together. The visit will strengthen our two countries’ shared commitment to a free, open, prosperous, and secure Indo-Pacific and our shared resolve to elevate our strategic technology partnership, including in defense, clean energy, and space. The leaders will discuss ways to further expand our educational exchanges and people-to-people ties, as well as our work together to confront common challenges from climate change to workforce development and health security.”