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How Manmohan Singh and Narendra Modi differed at US Congress

india Updated: Jun 10, 2016 14:25 IST
Jayanth Jacob
Jayanth Jacob
Hindustan Times
Narendra Modi

US vice-president Joe Biden and House Speaker Paul Ryan of Wis. applaud Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi during his address to a joint meeting of Congress on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday.(AP Photo)

They are very different politicians on every count. But there is a great deal of similarity and some pronounced differences in what both Narendra Modi and Manmohan Singh told the joint session of the US Congress on Wednesday and in July 2005 respectively.

But as it is the case with their strikingly different persona, there was a marked difference in how they both said them all—from showering platitudes, talking about similarities between two democracies, and how they see the present and visualize the future of the bilateral relationship.

Despite all the proximity Singh was accorded to with the US, at the end, a comparison of their speeches show Modi was more willing for a strategic embrace of the Americans than Singh ever was.

Modi told the American lawmakers that “constrains of the past are behind us” and “a new symphony is in play” in the conclusion of the speech. Singh had spoken of “transforming ties” drawing from the “principles” and “pragmatism” and welcomed US to be “on our side”. Modi was perhaps building upon what AB Vajpayee talked to the US lawmakers. Unlike Modi, Singh chose to make no reference to China in his speech with phrases Americans love such as ‘freedom of navigation’, but both took the opportunity to make oblique reference of Pakistan: Modi is the context of terrorism and Singh on non-proliferation.

Both the speeches, Singh reading out from a written text and Modi using teleprompter was applauded by the lawmakers. The two leaders started by comparing oldest democracy (the US) and the largest democracy in the world (India) in their similarities and their shared values such as freedom and celebration of diversity.

They both spoke about Indian constitution drawing inspiration from the American constitution: The difference was Modi quoted BR Ambedkar and Singh Jawaharlal Nehru to emphasis the point.

Both quoted Gandhi, the father of the nation in the speech and they also said India and US are natural allies, Modi attributing the credit of the phrase to Vajpayee. There was one person the two leaders praised in equal measure: Norman Borlaug, the American scientist, father of Green Revolution. Singh quoted no other American, but Modi cited three others, including President Abraham Lincoln.