In rousing speech to US Congress, PM Modi signals new moment in ties
In a rousing speech invoking past and present India-US ties, Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Wednesday urged US lawmakers to listen to a new “symphony in play”, one that was calling for the realisation of the full promise of the relationship.india Updated: Jun 09, 2016 16:30 IST
Prime Minister Narendra Modi sought to push India into a stronger security and economic relationship with the United States on Wednesday, in an elegant address to the US Congress that many felt signalled a new moment in bilateral ties.
Modi used the 45-minute speech, peppered with humour and which drew eight standing ovations, to make serious points about the need to fight terrorism and about India’s regional concerns over Pakistan and Chinese expansionism.
“I commend the members of the US Congress for sending a clear message to those who preach and practice terrorism for political gains,” he said, without mentioning either country by name. Modi was alluding to American lawmakers recently blocking a proposed, US-subsided sale of F-16 fighter jets to Pakistan.
Modi, who has ushered in closer bilateral ties since taking power two years ago, said India and the US have overcome “the hesitations of history” and highlighted shared values and aligned interests of the two countries. He described the US as an “indispensable partner”.
“The orchestra have sufficiently tuned their instrument, the baton has given the signal,” Modi said, quoting legendary American poet Walt Whitman. “And to that, if I may add, there is a new symphony in play.”
But he kept the specifics firmly in sight. Combating terrorism, Modi said, was foremost among the shared objectives of the two countries.
“Globally, terrorism remains the biggest threat, going by different names, but with the common philosophy of hate, murder and violence.”
“The need of the hour is for us to deepen our security cooperation,” the prime minister said, adding, “And, base it on a policy that isolates those who harbour, support and sponsor terrorists; that does not distinguish between ‘good’ and ‘bad’ terrorists; and that delinks religion from terrorism.”
“Terrorism must be delegitimised,” he added.
Michael Krugman, a scholar with Wilson Center, a think tank, said he was struck by the applause that line received, showing the hostility felt by lawmakers towards Pakistan, which Modi didn’t mention by name in his speech.
Other Indian and US officials also said they have been struck by how little Pakistan has figured during the talks this time, compared to in the past - — and one that the prime minister used to highlight a shared concern.
Milan Vaishnav, an India expert at Carnegie, said, “This was an elegant speech that combined the usual chestnuts (shared values, democracy, people-to-people ties) with forays into contested issues like Afghanistan, climate change, and Asian security.”
And, to the areas of contention, he might have added the prime minister’s own history with the US Congress, which passed a legislation that prevented the state department from issuing Modi a visa for many years when he was chief minister.
Without directly alluding to it, or to a recent hostile hearing of the senate over the state of human rights issues in India, the prime minister said, “For my government, the Constitution is its real holy book. And, in that holy book, freedom of faith, speech and franchise, and equality of all citizens, regardless of background, are enshrined as fundamental rights.”
But he also pushed back on some contentious issues. On continuing criticism of India’s Intellectual Property Rights, Modi, said, “SIRI (the iPhone app) tells us that India’s ancient heritage of Yoga has over 30 million practitioners in the US. It is estimated that more Americans bend for yoga than to throw a curve ball.”
And, no, he added, “We have not yet claimed intellectual property right on Yoga.”