WASHINGTON: 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.
In a nearly 45-minute speech interrupted by at least 53 rounds of applause, Modi highlighted shared values and aligned interests of the two countries and used a mix of humour and culture specific references to reach out a US institution that has been the source of some tension, but much strength, in bilateral relations. Modi on Wednesday became the fifth Indian PM to address a joint meeting of US congress after Rajiv Gandhi, PV Narasimha Rao, AB Vajpayee and Manmohan Singh. Jawaharlal Nehru, the first PM, spoke to the House of Representatives only.
“The orchestra have sufficiently tuned their instrument, the baton has given the signal,” Modi said quoting the legendary American poet Walt Whitman, “And to that, if I may add, there is a new symphony in play.” The need to act in concert.
India and the US can achieve much by acting together and not only for the benefit of the two country and their people, but also for the rest of the world, he said.
But he kept the specifics firmly in sight. Combating terrorism, he 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,” he 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.”
Michael Krugman, a scholar with Wilson Center, a think tank, said he was struck by, one, the applause that line received — showed the hostility felt by lawmakers towards Pakistan, which, his second takeaway, Modi didn’t mention by name. But Pakistan was only a brief detour — other Indian and US officials has 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 PM used to highlight a shared concern.
Milan Vaishnav, an India expert at Carnegie, said, “This was an elegant speech that combined the usual chestnuts with forays into contested issues such as Afghanistan, climate change, and Asian security.”
And, to the areas of contention, he might have added the PM’s own history with US congress, which passed a legislation that prevented the state department from issuing Modi a visa for many year when he was CM.