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Modi Makes His Mark in US Congress

The Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s US visit signifies a bid to open a new chapter in Indo-US relations even as America is poised to a change of Presidency, writes HIMANI KUMAR

Policy Pulse
Publish Date: Jun 16 2016 7:19PM | Updated Date: Jun 16 2016 7:21PM

Modi Makes His Mark in US Congress

Leaving behind Nehruvian  diplomacy, Indian Prime Minister Narendra  Modi mesmerised the US Joint Congress and voiced support on issues ranging  from terrorism, nuclear energy, climate change and democracy last Wednesday, or June 8.


Prime Minister Narendra Modi was a true oratorial  rockstar when he delivered his speech in front of the US Joint Congress with nine standing ovations, 63 rounds of applause and 46 minutes of speech – something even President Obama would have found difficult to achieve.


Modi’s fourth visit was not only meant to thank the US for returning Indian artefacts worth $100 million, - a quest that started in 2003, but also bolstering Indo-US ties. On his five-nation tour and meeting Obama for the sixth time since 2014, Modi who travelled from Qatar, promised the Congress that a new symphony of cooperation is being played by the two countries and urged for cooperation from US leaders, a  la Swami Vivekananda.


Obama and Modi signed eight agreements including defence, energy, nuclear power and counter-terrorism. They vowed to  ratify the Paris Climate Accord to stop greenhouse gas emissions by the end of this year and set a one-year deadline to settle a deal to build six nuclear power plants in the State of Andhra Pradesh since both countries signed a landmark civil nuclear deal in 2008.


The new atomic power agreement was signed by Nuclear Power Corporation of India and Westinghouse Electric Company.


Modi underscored the message that both India and the US have same ideals. “The threads of freedom and liberty are the same for both countries strong bond between our two democracies is strong,” he stated. The concern for the countryman is common, although both nations were shaped by a diverse history culture and faiths. The Idea that all citizens are created equal is central pillar of American constitution, which has been an important concept to follow the world over,” he added, “and is also one of the tenets in the Indian Constitution.”


Modi captivated the joint U.S. Congress by stating that in the Indian constitution the notion of  Freedom of faith, franchise and equality of all citizens are enshrined as fundamental rights in India.


Mahatma Gandhi’s non-violence inspired Martin Luther’s King. Modi also referred to Dr Bhimrao Ambedkar, who, studied at Colombia University in New York. Ambedkar was influenced by the US constitution and this helped him draft the Indian constitution some three decades later. “Our independence was ignited fuelled by same struggle of freedom,” Modi said.


Modi was looked upon as an exemplary leader at par with Atal Behari Vajpayee who visited the US in 2001 and met President George Bush. Vajpayee had also mentioned that India and America were natural allies and Modi stressed that there was a natural alliance between the two countries.


“Our ties are the defining partnership of the 21st century.  We need to step out of the shadow of the hesitation of history,” Modi said.  He said that the intensity of engagement has grown between the two countries. “The U.S. Congress has acted as its compass. It has helped turned barriers into bridges of partnership,” Modi declared.


With some minor grammatical mistakes and methods of pronunciation, Modi almost roared like a lion in delivering his speech.  He used some catchphrases and articulated words that made a meaningful impact.


Modi also quoted Lincoln and described America as a great nation conceived in liberty – dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal. “You have honoured India’s 1.25 billion people,” Modi declared at the outset of the speech.


Showing his support for the ancient Indian science of Yoga, Modi said that India had not yet claimed a patent on yoga yet. “Most Americans bend while doing Yoga than for a curve ball,” Modi quipped. He added that according to Siri there were more than 30 billion practitioners of  Yoga in United States.


Last year, Modi was instrumental in declaring International Day of Yoga on June 21 with the help of the United Nations. It was a great success as now yoga is being practiced even in Islamic countries like Egypt.


One of the highlights of the visit was the signing of a US-India Clean Energy finance initiative that is expected to mobilise upto  $400 million to provide clean and renewable electricity to upto one million households by 2020.


During his visit, Modi, however, drew the ire of Christians and Muslims for alleged atrocities in his Government in India. During his visit, the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission held a hearing with at least three US Congressmen to protest the human rights violations in India.


On the first day of his visit, Modi also addressed the US India Business Council. Climate change, security and diplomatic operation and extremism were the issues that he highlighted. 


India, the world's largest importer of defence equipment, is set to spend $250 billion over the next decade refurbishing its outdated hardware. But Modi has made it a key policy to push for these new weapons systems and other equipment to be made mostly in India rather than abroad.


Modi also called all nations to speak with one voice to stop extremism and said that the need of the hour was to deepen our security cooperation and base it on a policy that isolates those who harbour, support and sponsor terrorists.


“Terrorism remains the biggest threat,” Modi said. It may go by different names from that whether it was Lashkar-e-Toiba, Taliban to ISIS its philosophy is common- of hate, murder and violence. Although it is a shadow spreading all over the world it is incubated in India’s neighborhood


Modi thanked the United States in providing help to India in help resolving the 26/11 terror attacks that occurred in Mumbai in December 2008. Despite U.S. officials like Condoleezza Rice visiting India and Pakistan to resolve the situation, many culprits of the Mumbai terror attacks and other incidents remain at large and roam scot free and no action has been taken against them by the Government of Pakistan.


Modi also credited agronomist Norman Ernest Borlaug with bringing the Green Revolution in India. He thanked America for bringing the collaboration of science and technology.


“We trade more with United States than with any other nation,” Modi said. Flow of goods and services generates jobs in both our societies,” he said. Modi said that Indo-US defence purchases had been to the tune of $10 billion in less than a decade.


According to CNN, US-India trade has soared from $60 billion in 2009 to $107 billion in 2015, while American defence contractors are now selling India $14 billion worth of equipment, an increase from $300 million less than a decade ago.


During his speech he mentioned that before he joined public office he travelled to more than 25 states in the United States and saw the values and ambition and dreams of the American people. The Indian people also carry the same pride and aspirations and dreams he said, finding common ground in both countries.


"No wonder that the shared ideals and common philosophy of freedom shape the bedrock of our ties. No wonder that President Obama called our ties the defining partnership of the 21st century," Modi said.


And even as America will elect its new president in November this year, it remains to be seen whether Modi can carry on the same camaraderie with the newly elected leader as well, as he did with Obama and whether India will still struggle to resolve past differences. – The writer is a freelance journalist based in Chicago